UN’s Mueller: Turkey’s offensive displaced over 200,000 people

Ursula Mueller, UN Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator highlighted the worsening humanitarian situation for people in many parts of Syria.

In a briefing to the UN Security Council on the Humanitarian Situation in Syria, Mueller cited the Secretary-General’s latest report updates about many concerning developments and touched upon the continued importance of cross-border humanitarian operations.

Referring to the situation in northwest Syria, Mueller said that the situation remains alarming as Syrian government forces and their allies continue to shell and conduct airstrikes on areas under the control of non-state armed groups, including listed terrorist entities, in Idlib and Aleppo. She noted that non-state armed groups, for their part, have escalated attacks against areas controlled by Government forces in southern Idlib and Aleppo. Civilians on both sides of the frontline suffer the consequences.

Mueller pointed out that the humanitarian situation remains serious in northeast Syria even as hostilities have decreased in recent weeks.

After Turkey and allied non-state armed groups launched ‘Operation Peace Spring’ in the area between Tal Abyad and Ras al-Ayn in Syria on 9 October, over 200,000 people fled the area. As of 26 November, 123,000 people had returned to their areas of origin. More than 70,000 people remain displaced from Hasakah, Raqqah and Aleppo governorates. Nearly 17,000 people have fled into Iraq.”

Mueller said that humanitarian organizations have mounted a significant response to assist hundreds of thousands of people affected by hostilities in the northeast, adding; “As the Secretary-General notes, humanitarian organizations in the area have been very adaptive to ensure the necessary assistance reaches those most in need. With some 1.8 million people in need in northeast Syria, the task is considerable.”

Mueller continued: “Rapid and unimpeded humanitarian access remains essential for all facets of the ongoing humanitarian response in the northeast. Assessments must be facilitated to identify the most pressing needs and vulnerable populations. Supply lines via the M4 highway and various border crossings must remain open for humanitarian cargo. The delivery of humanitarian assistance must be allowed without interference by the parties. Finally, monitoring missions must be allowed in order to confirm needs are being met. We expect all parties to the conflict to facilitate a sustained and scaled-up coordinated response.”

The UN official also mentioned the situation in Al-Hol camp which -she said- also requires a dedicated and urgent response.

“As noted in the Secretary-General’s report, some 68,400 people remain in the camp, 94 per cent of whom are women and children. I join OHCHR in urging governments to immediately take back their nationals who are most vulnerable. Many of these individuals, including orphans and unaccompanied children, may require further assistance given potential abuse and trauma. Ultimately, though, their best chance to have a better future is for their governments to respond.”

Citing the Under-Secretary-General’s briefing last month, Mueller noted that the humanitarian situation in northwest and northeast Syria would be markedly worse without the cross-border humanitarian operation; “The aid provided through the modalities set out in your resolutions have staved off an even larger humanitarian crisis inside Syria. Without the cross-border operation, we would see an immediate end of aid supporting millions of civilians. That would cause a rapid increase in hunger and disease, resulting in death, suffering and further displacement—including across-borders—for a vulnerable population who have already suffered unspeakable tragedy as a result of almost nine years of conflict.”

Mueller also remarked that insecurity continues to endanger civilians across much of Syria, including areas away from frontlines. She said; “Earlier this month, for example, OHCHR warned about the increasing number of incidents in north Syria involving improvised explosive devices in marketplaces, residential neighborhoods and other populated areas. Some 49 incidents have been verified since late October, 43 of which were in areas under the control of Turkish forces and affiliated non-state armed groups. At least 78 civilians were killed, and more than 300 persons were injured in these incidents.”