What do you think? Leave a respectful comment.

UN votes to keep sole humanitarian border crossing open to starving Syrians

The U.N. Security Council unanimously extended the sole humanitarian crossing into Syria — one day before it was set to close — after a deal between the U.S. and Russia. The White House said Presidents Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin discussed it on a phone call. But some humanitarian groups say the deal doesn’t go far enough for the millions of Syrians in desperate need. Nick Schifrin reports.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Today, the U.N. Security Council voted unanimously to extend a crucial aid operation for Syria one day before it was set to close, after a deal between the U.S. and Russia.

    The White House said that President Biden and Vladimir Putin discussed it on a phone call.

    But, as Nick Schifrin reports, some humanitarian groups say the deal doesn't go far enough for the millions of Syrians in desperate need.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    For Syrian children near the Turkish border, the only way to survive is to search through scraps. Ten-year-old Mohammad Adi begins every day at dawn. If he finds enough pieces of steel, he can eat.

  • Mohammad Adi (through translator):

    I collect and sell steel I find here, so that I can afford to buy a loaf of bread. There's no one that can afford to spend money on us. We have to work, so that we can spend what we earn on ourselves.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    The children live here in the nearby Al-Amal camp. In Northwest Syria, desperation is everywhere. Thousands of Syrians who have come here after fleeing their homes say all they have left is God and the United Nations.

    For the weathered and the weak, whose houses were destroyed by airstrikes, this arid camp is now home.

    Fahmy Al-Saud says if the last humanitarian aid crossing had closed, everyone would have turned to the trash not to trade steel, but for food itself.

  • Fahmy Al-Saud (through translator):

    If they close the border, where will people go? They will go to the landfills. If they find fruit scraps, they will eat them. They will eat out of starvation, that level of starvation.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    In 2014, the U.N. Security Council approved four border crossings for humanitarian aid into Syria. In January 2020, Russia used a veto threat to close two crossings. Seven months later, under pressure from Russia and China, the U.N. closed a third crossing, leaving only one, Bab al-Hawa in the Northwest.

    Today's agreement extends the status quo for six months with a six-month renewal that a senior administration official called virtually automatic. The U.N. praised the deal.

    And U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield said the unanimous vote saved lives.

  • Linda Thomas-Greenfield:

    It's a moment for millions of Syrians who will not have to worry about starving to death in the coming weeks. It's important that the United States and Russia were able to come together on a humanitarian initiative that serves the interests of the Syrian people.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    But humanitarian aid groups say authorizing a single aid crossing is not enough to meet the vast need, and they say Russia's blocking another proposal that would have reopened a second crossing shows disregard for Syrian lives.

    Today, Human Rights Watch said Russia has successfully blackmailed the international community. Amnesty International accused Russia of playing political games with the lives and welfare of millions of people.

    Idlib is the final stronghold of the Syrian opposition. Humanitarian workers in Syria accuse Russia and the Syrian government of using humanitarian need for political gain.

  • Salem Al Zoubi (through translator):

    As aid workers, we demand the international community separate human rights work from politics, and to avoid attaching policy gains to the distribution of humanitarian aid.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    But Russia and the Syrian government want the aid to pass through government-controlled areas. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov recently blamed Syria's humanitarian crisis on the U.S.

  • Sergei Lavrov (through translator):

    If we're all worried about the humanitarian problems of the Syrian people, we need to look at the full range of reasons, starting with sanctions, the illegal seizure of Syrian assets in foreign banks, at the request of Washington, a total robbery.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Eighty-five percent of Idlib's four million people depend on the Bab al-Hawa crossing. And now it's also COVID. This week, the World Health Organization said the U.N. is counting on the crossing to deliver more than 50,000 vaccines.

    Last weekend, aid organizations demonstrated at the crossing and accused the Russians of killing them through bombing and starvation.

  • Aisha (through translator):

    This decision would subject people to another form of killing, like the bombardment we experience every day from Russia and the regime.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Despite today's agreement, that bombardment is relentless. Last Saturday, Syrian government artillery and Russian airstrikes destroyed this home and an office of the Syrian humanitarian rescue group the White Helmets. The airstrikes killed at least eight civilians. Most of them were children.

    Just a mile from the border crossing, Syrians' families fate still rests on a vote from the same country that bombs them.

    For the "PBS NewsHour, " I'm Nick Schifrin.

Listen to this Segment