Secretary of State Tony Blinken addressed the United Nations Security Council Monday in an at-times passionate plea to increase desperately needed humanitarian access to Syria.
In remarks delivered virtually in his capacity as top US diplomat, Blinken called for the Security Council to reauthorize and reopen the two closed border crossings and reauthorize the one border crossing that remains open to allow aid to reach the people of Syria – and invoked his own young children in thinking about the crisis.
“The Security Council takes up so many challenges that are complicated. This is not one of them,” Blinken said. “The lives of people in Syria depend on getting urgent help. We have to do everything in our power to create ways for that aid to get to them, to open pathways, not to close them.”
In July 2020, China and Russia vetoed several measures to reauthorize the Bab al-Salam and Al Yarubiyah crossings. The Security Council ultimately passed a resolution extending authorization for humanitarian aid through one Turkish crossing. Moscow has provided backing to the Assad regime.
“There was no good reason at the time for the council’s failure to reauthorize these two humanitarian crossings, and there is no good reason the crossings remain closed today,” said Blinken, who also chaired Monday’s meeting. The US holds the Security Council presidency for the month of March.
The top US diplomat said that “members of this council have a job to do: reauthorize all three border crossings for humanitarian assistance.”
“Stop taking part in, or making excuses for attacks the close these pathways and stop targeting humanitarian aid workers and the Syrian civilians they’re trying to help. Stop making humanitarian assistance on which millions of Syrians lives depends a political issue,” he said.
“Look, we all sit in these chairs. We speak these words. We represent our countries. But how is it possible that we can’t find in our hearts the common humanity to actually take meaningful action to do something? How is that possible?” Blinken said.
“I have two young children of my own. I suspect many members of this council have young children or grandchildren. I think of my kids when I think of the Syrian children we’ve heard talked about today. I ask you to do the same thing. Think of yours. Look into your hearts, and then talk to your colleagues, and despite our differences, we have to find a way to do something, to take action to help people,” he said. “That is our responsibility, and shame on us if we don’t meet it.”
According to the United Nations, more than 24 million people in Syria and the region are in need of humanitarian or other forms of assistance.
“It has been 10 years of despair and disaster for Syrians. Now plummeting living conditions, economic decline and COVID-19 result in more hunger, malnutrition and disease,” said Mark Lowcock, the head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and the UN Emergency Relief Coordinator.
Blinken described the “question before (them)” as “what can the Security Council do to help the millions of Syrians whose lives hang in the balance.”
“In the short term, we know the answer and it’s simple: we must ensure Syrians get the humanitarian aid they need. At present, the most efficient and effective way to get the most aid to the most people in the northwest and northeast is through border crossings,” he said.
“Some may argue that reauthorizing humanitarian crossings and providing cross-border aid would in some way infringe on the sovereignty of the Syrian regime,” Blinken said, in a thinly veiled swipe at Russia. “But sovereignty was never intended to ensure the right of any government to starve people, deprive them of life-saving medicine, bomb hospitals or commit any other human rights abuse against citizens.”
The top US diplomat also noted the added importance of getting aid to the Syrian people in light of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Syria today provides the ideal conditions for the virus to spread. Social distancing is impossible when one is jostling for a spot in a crowded breadline. Many Syrians do not even have a reliable supply of clean water and soap to wash their hands,” he noted. “There’s approximately one Syrian doctor for every 10,000 civilians in Syria. Hospitals that remain are still being attacked by the regime and its backers … already, doctors, nurses, health workers in Syria are getting sick and dying at alarming rates due to COVID-19. That’s only going to get worse.”
CNN’s Richard Roth contributed to this report.