February 9, 2023

For Immediate Release

The Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS) is on the ground in Turkey and Syria responding to the deadly earthquake that took thousands of lives on Sunday. This shocking event in such an already devastated region has refocused the world’s attention on Syria, but the truth is the humanitarian situation in Syria was desperate and unsustainable even before the earthquake. A series of challenges to the health sector: dwindling access, COVID-19 and a cholera outbreak across Syria all degraded a humanitarian environment, and these challenges are now exacerbated by this shocking natural disaster. To alleviate these compounding crises, SAMS calls on the international community, including the United Nations, to reopen all border crossings including those into northwest Syria, this will significantly increase the flow of humanitarian aid and support to the region. 

For years now, aid delivery into Syria, including medical aid, has been hampered by a political process inside the United Nations Security Council that relitigates the provision of cross-border aid every six months. Almost all NGOs working in the region as well as many donor countries have acknowledged that this setup degrades the provision of aid and forces service-providers to expend time and resources contingency planning twice a year. Funneling all aid through one crossing, and having this entrypoint subject to a political process makes aid provision fragile and slow. This was always a problem, but in the wake of this earthquake it is simply not tenable.

For this reason, the American Relief Coalition for Syria (ARCS) of which SAMS is a member, in partnership with law firm Guernica 37, has produced a study on the legality of cross-border aid without a UNSC resolution. SAMS’ President Dr. Amjad Rass elaborated on the role of this report and expanded border access from Istanbul where he is coordinating SAMS’ relief efforts: 

“It is not critical to get into the details of this legal report here, but only to say that legal scholars, humanitarians and international scholars concur that there are humanitarian imperatives which should be taken into account during this process and used to justify a broader scope of aid delivery. With this terrible natural disaster, there is also an opportunity to reevaluate this aid paradigm, and finally admit that it has been failing the people of Northwest Syria, people who have already dealt with a decade of war, displacement and poverty. While the ARCS legal report focused on the viability of cross-border aid provision without a security council resolution, it is now also clear that northwest Syria requires more open, functioning border crossings. With this population once again hit by incomprehensible tragedy, how can we justify keeping so much of the border closed?”

In the coming weeks, Northwest Syria and those impacted in Turkey will need a level of aid unprecedented in the last few years of the conflict. Hundreds of families already in temporary shelters with inadequate heating for the Winter have now lost their homes. Medical facilities already stretched to capacity have been damaged and had to shut down. Food delivery points were destroyed. Avoiding mass casualties from the secondary impacts of this earthquake will require a scaling up of aid that one border crossing simply cannot handle. Furthermore, this endeavor should be pursued holistically, with the first priority placed on needs on both sides of the border rather than political concerns. 

SAMS and other Syrian NGOs are ready to step up and massively intensify our effort getting aid across the border in this pivotal time. However, humanitarians need allies among those with the power to create new aid entry points for Northwest Syria, and to unlock the political process that has hampered such accessibility until now. During these next few weeks, thousands of lives depend on the speed and reach of humanitarian aid. Let’s make sure we did everything we can to save them.