October Quarterly Update 2021
10 July 2021 marked the deadline for renewal of the UN’s resolution authorising cross-border humanitarian assistance to Syria. Earlier statements from Moscow indicated that Russia intended to veto any extension, arguing instead for aid to reach communities within Syria via ‘crossline’ delivery from Damascus. UN agencies and humanitarian organisation were explicit that this would create an immediate and long-term humanitarian catastrophe. The new US Administration also signalled early, that future US-Russia foreign relations, not just on Syria, would hinge on whether they could reach agreement on the cross-border resolution.
Until 2019, Crisis Action played a central convening role in coordinating humanitarian INGO engagement with UNSC member states and with the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN OCHA) to ensure that decision makers had the very latest information from the ground and key messages for renewal. From 2020, however, Crisis Action determined that partners were now well-coordinated. It was agreed instead that the team would narrowly focus on coordinating partner engagement with Turkey, as Turkey’s position is critical to Russia, and partners are unable to engage Turkey directly on advocacy due to operational risks in-country.
Securing an extension of a border crossing to enable continued humanitarian assistance into Syria
In July, the UN Security Council — acting in a rare moment of unanimity on the Syrian conflict — adopted a compromise resolution 2585 (2021) extending by one more year the use of the Bab al-Hawa border crossing on Syria’s border with Turkey for the delivery of humanitarian aid essential to 3.2 million civilians living in opposition-controlled North-West Syria.
While Crisis Action had already decided to exit the Syria campaign it was agreed we would once again extend support to partners coordinating partner engagement with Turkey, once again critical to the outcome of negotiations. To ensure the renewal of the UN’s cross-border humanitarian assistance to Syria, Crisis Action:
- Liaised between the Turkish Mission to the UN and partners to share and receive situation updates/key messages and organised two joint partner meetings with Turkey’s UN Mission at critical moments.
- Created a WhatsApp group across operational humanitarian partners and human rights partners to ensure that there was a free flow of information updates and alignment on key messages so that human rights advocacy for wider cross-border access was consistent with priorities on the ground.
The consensus among partners is that Turkey’s bilateral engagement with Russia was instrumental in influencing Russia to reach a compromise with the US. Turkey itself placed value of Crisis Action support evidenced by their request to the team for a summary of international NGO partner views on the final resolution. Crisis Action’s coordinated WhatsApp group was also seen by partners as “an invaluable resource” (HRW) and “essential to a great team effort” (IRC) in achieving this outcome.
The way ahead
As part of Crisis Action’s exit from campaigning on Syria, the organisation has compiled a directory of contacts of civil society organisations, policy makers, experts and media to help facilitate connections and continued collaboration. The team has also been actively passing on key relationships and supported partners’ ability to sustain collective campaigning on Syria beyond the exit. Crisis Action’s office in Beirut will continue to monitor the situation in Syria for any change that would trigger our re-engagement. Crisis Action’s engagement on Syria continues through the organisations Russia programme.