Syria_Camp on border with Turkey

Sherine Ibrahim, CARE Türkiye Country Director, speaks about what the UNSC cross-border vote means for Syrians

On 10 January 2023, the UNSC will vote on UN cross-border aid into Syria through the Bab al-Hawa crossing on the border with Turkey. Failure to renew this would cut off the lifeline for over 4.6 million people in Northwest Syria. 

What is the impact of a non-renewal of the cross-border resolution on Syrians?

We are simply running out of words to emphasize how dangerous the situation is. Failure to renew the UNSC cross border resolution will only add to the suffering of Syrians. This is the last remaining UN-operated humanitarian crossing into the country. Non-renewal means cutting off the lifeline for over 4.6 million people, in Northwest Syria. Last year's Humanitarian Needs Overview described the situation in the Northwest as “severe and bordering on catastrophic.” I cannot imagine what words – beyond severe and catastrophic – can be used to describe a situation where basic services, such as food or health care, will no longer be afforded. The plight of women and children is unspeakable and threatens to become even worse as essential health and other services are gradually shut down.

What has changed since July 2022 when the Resolution reduced the duration of the of the UN’s cross-border humanitarian assistance operation into Northwest Syria from 12 months to just six?

For many years, the ability to provide humanitarian commodities gave a sense of hope to the people living inside the northwest of Syria. It was not just about a concrete, practical support to the people there. It was a lifeline that gave hope. Since last July’s resolution, people have lost hope. With lack of hope comes great anxiety. With great anxiety comes great tension between communities who have for so long been living in these difficult circumstances together. With community tensions comes competition over resources and therefore insecurity. The loss of the cross-border mechanism means less food baskets, more children being forced out of school and more girls being married off by families, but it also spells the disintegration of a social fabric barely holding together, after years of war, in the face of great adversity.

What are the major challenges now facing CARE’s operations in Northwest Syria?

In such a protracted crisis, we think and operate based on humanitarian needs. But we are also investing in early recovery, resilience building, and income-generating efforts. We want people to have dignified shelters. At the same time, we work with them to harvest their own land and to raise their own livestock. People need to start rebuilding their lives. Adjusting our programs means more efforts, time and money to help Syrian men and women secure land, skills, and necessary resources to start being agents of change. This cannot be achieved in so long as we are forced to plan every six months, for a possible end of assistance. Six-month renewals and funding cycles are reinforcing the dependency on aid. We continue to urge the Security Council to return to authorizing the cross-border operation for a minimum of 12 months, so we can deliver better quality assistance with predictability and at scale.

How will CARE operate in case of non-renewal?

What we know for sure is that INGOs, CARE included, will not fail the people of Northwest Syria. Non-renewal means that border closure will impact UN and NGO operations, albeit at a different scale for NGOs who will be able to continue operating but will face severe challenges. These challenges range from being able to purchase humanitarian aid in the quantities required to meet the need and accessing those who need it most. Challenges include ensuring that the aid does not go to anyone but those who need it most.

INGOs and local actors alike will have to recalibrate their programmatic responsibilities and capacities to continue to operate and serve the people inside the Northwest. We anticipate a period of imbalance, having to serve more people with less resources. We expect community tensions, access restrictions and worse protection circumstances for women and children. I think we will see a lot more women sinking into greater poverty and vulnerability, a lot more children leaving school and staying out of school, a lot younger women either being forced to work or get married under very unfortunate circumstances. However, we have made the commitment to remain and serve those who need us most.

What are people there telling CARE staff about their situation?

The resilience of Syrians in the Northwest of the country is unparalleled. They have survived 12 years of crisis. I have never seen women who have been forced to move four or five, or even six times, still able to fend for themselves, their children, their grandchildren, and the children of others. I have never seen women and young girls being able to survive the harsh winters 11 years in a row while living in tents. I have never seen skilled doctors, skilled teachers, skilled nurses having to take on other jobs just to feed their families. But they are also tired. Girls and women spend hours queuing for water that becomes more expensive by the day, spending the little money they have on something most of us take for granted. Many people depend on water trucking, never knowing when and how much water will be available, or whether it might make their children sick, cause diarrhea and other health problems. One of these women queuing told us “We need to work and rely on our skills.” People want to rely on their agency and skills to do the work. They want a more dignified and meaningful existence, to be the earners of their own income, the agents of their own change. People tell us they want to farm the land, enter the classrooms, and dig the water networks to be put in place. CARE will work to make this happen for the people of NW Syria

Almost everyone here is poor, but most people here are ten degrees under the poverty line. Without aid, it would be a catastrophe,
Ibrahim (name changed), father of six and beekeeper in Northwest Syria.

Information about CARE’s work in Northwest Syria:

CARE began operating in Syria in 2013 to provide life-saving emergency assistance to people affected by the ongoing conflict. CARE responds to the crisis inside Syria through a network of local partners. CARE’s response in Syria includes support for food security and the re-establishment of livelihood options. CARE is helping provide reproductive, primary care and maternal health, as well as shelter, clean water, and proper sanitation. This is achieved mainly by distributing relief supplies and multi-purpose cash vouchers for food as well as hygiene and baby kits, dignity kits for the elderly, and sanitary products. Supplies which, at times of emergency, are among the most important items people need to carry on daily activities such as cooking, carrying water, or washing their hands.

Where possible, CARE helps rebuild livelihoods, developing resilience programs and providing families with early recovery support. This includes agricultural production, livestock programs, cash for work, microfinance, and concerted protection programming, including for gender-based violence, case management, and psychosocial programming.