Press Stakeout by United Nations Special Envoy for Syria Mr. Geir O. Pedersen Following Humanitarian Task Force Meeting

9 Feb 2023

Press Stakeout by United Nations Special Envoy for Syria Mr. Geir O. Pedersen Following Humanitarian Task Force Meeting

Thank you, Jenifer, and good to see you all. 

Obviously, these are particularly grim times for the people of Türkiye and Syria, and you have all seen the images and obviously they speak for themselves. It is devastating and I think unimaginable for us who are not really there. There are simply no words that can convey I think the suffering that people are going through.

As you all know in a natural disaster like this the first 72 hours are critical, and we are now past those 72 hours.

The number of casualties continues to rise as we are speaking, in both countries, and there are still too many people who are under the rubbles, in freezing cold. 

The earthquake struck as the humanitarian crisis in northwest Syria was already worsening, with needs at their highest level since the conflict began.

In all affected parts of Syria, humanitarians report an urgent need for logistics, skilled rescue teams, and temporary shelters.

The UN is helping mobilizing emergency teams and relief operations, and many in the international community have rushed in to support. 

Syrians, who are suffering, whose suffering is compounded as it comes on top of everything else they have suffered over more than a decade, have seen some assistance. But nowhere near enough assistance.

Our immediate asks are two: access and resources. 

We need aid, life-saving aid, is desperately needed by civilians wherever they are irrespective of borders and boundaries. We need it urgently, through the fastest, most direct, and most effective routes. 

They need more of absolutely everything.

That was my message today to the Humanitarian Task Force members and it is my message to you. 

Emergency response must not be politicized. We must instead focus on what is needed urgently to help men, women and children, those who we can still save, those whose lives are devastated by one of the most catastrophic earthquakes the region has seen in about a century.

After 12 years of war and displacement to be visited by such a tragedy in the middle of winter is indeed enough.  

This surely has to be about putting people first and we must all be guided by this principle.

Thank you.

Question: I was wondering in your meeting if there was any indication that more border crossings might be opened? What your discussions with the Syrian side and also with Russian have garnered in this respect?

Mr. Pedersen: Let me start by saying I was struck by the unity in the meeting we had today by all the different Member States that participated. When it comes to cross-border, as you know, we had the problem because the roads leading to the border crossings have been destroyed. But we were assured today that we will be able to get through the first assistance today, and then there will be obviously more assistance coming. 

There was also a strong appeal that we will use all modalities, we will use cross-border and we will use crossline operations. So, we need support to go into the northwest, we need support to go into areas under government control that have been particularly hard hit, Aleppo and Hama were mentioned, and we know that some support is already coming into the airports in Aleppo and indeed also to Damascus.  

Question: Mr. Pedersen you think it is time now to lift some unilateral sanctions on Syria in this situation? 

Mr. Pedersen: Listen, we need to do everything to make sure that there are no impediments whatsoever to deliver life-saving support that is needed in Syria.  And I have been discussing this, in particular with representatives from the United States and from the European Union and they assure me that they will do whatever they can to make sure that there are no impediments to assistance coming to Syria to help in this operation. And indeed, if anyone can point to any impediments, they should let us know and we will make sure that the United States and the European Union know about this, because all support that is needed needs to get in.

Question: The Syrian government has said that it was ready to help spreading, distributing the aid to the areas that it doesn’t control. What kind of guarantees did you have on that from them and how was that received by the opposition and the other groups maybe that you might have talked to? 

Mr. Pedersen: Of course, the tragedy in Syria as I said is that the war and conflict has been going on now for 12 years, and the country is effectively divided at least in three different parts, and two areas have been particularly hard hit, the areas in the northwest and then areas under government control as well. So, what we need to make sure now is that there are no political hinderances to the aid needed getting to the people that are affected. And this was my message today and this is my message to you, and it will be my message indeed to the Syrian authorities and to whoever can help us to reach the people in need.

Thank you.