Aid Groups Say Relief Should Be Part Of UN Deal On Syria

Sep 27, 2013
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Meanwhile, the U.N. Security Council has made some progress over Syria. Diplomats have passed the first binding resolution dealing with the Syrian civil war. It requires Syria to keep its pledge to get rid of its chemical weapons stockpile. It also calls for a political solution and for peace talks in Geneva. But it's missing something that aid groups have been seeking for months: a call on Syria to open up new routes to get food and medical assistance to millions who are in need.

NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: With all the attention focused on chemical weapons, humanitarian groups have taken to publicity stunts just to get some focus on the millions of Syrians uprooted by war. Oxfam America's Ray Offenheiser had an artist create a 3-D image outside of the U.N. of Syrian refugees peering through a fence to see the U.S. and Russian presidents having coffee over a map of Syria.

RAY OFFENHEISER: You know, with the idea that if they can actually come together and negotiate a pathway to a durable peace, this is what these refugees are looking for, and that's what, I think, all the international community should be doing this week in New York.

KELEMEN: Diplomats have been talking a lot about the humanitarian catastrophe in Syria. The European Union's top aid official, Kristalina Georgieva, says at one meeting she chaired, everyone raised concerns that Syrian children could become part of a lost generation.

KRISTALINA GEORGIEVA: We will mobilize to protect children so their future is not crushed with horrible consequences for themselves, but also for stability in the region.

KELEMEN: The refugee crisis is putting enormous pressures on neighboring countries. 800,000 people have fled to the small, fragile country of Lebanon. The head of the U.N.'s refugee agency, Antonio Guterres, says that would be like 57 million people pouring into the U.S.

ANTONIO GUTERRES: I do not recall any country having suffered more dramatic impact in its economy and its society by an inflow of refugees than Lebanon today.

KELEMEN: He says Lebanon needs massive support, and its high time for the international community to assume its responsibility. The EU's Georgieva is calling on the Security Council to do or at least say something on the subject.

GEORGIEVA: This is the first crisis in modern times when the Security Council has not stated two simple things: don't kill civilians, don't hurt the people who are there to help them.

KELEMEN: She says with the council coming together around a U.S./Russian plan to rid Syria of chemical weapons, that could provide an opening for aid groups.

GEORGIEVA: The implementation of any agreement would require that there are inspectors inside Syria. These inspectors would require security and protection. It is inconceivable that we would not use this to help people more.

KELEMEN: But the inspectors will mainly have to be in regime-held territory where chemical weapons stockpiles are. And there are other concerns, says Bob Kitchen of the International Rescue Committee.

BOB KITCHEN: You know, we saw with the weapons inspectors going into the areas close to Damascus, they were fired on. That's a good example where they had permission to be there and they still came under fire.

KELEMEN: He says his team have had to be creative in Syria, working through a network of local organizations, but it's not nearly enough and donors have fallen far short of what the U.N. has been requesting.

KITCHEN: It's a huge concern for the international community. It's a huge concern for Syrians that struggling to make ends meet, struggling to be able to afford food, housing, warm clothes for their families. Winter is around the corner.

KELEMEN: Kitchen says it's tough to reach tens of thousands of people living in tents near the Turkish border. And it gets more difficult and dangerous to try to deliver aid deeper into Syria. This is what he says the U.N. should be demanding from Syria and the rebels.

KITCHEN: The ability to cross frontlines, the ability to cross borders to deliver assistance to those most in need. It's everybody's responsibility. So whether it is through corridors or buffer zones, the important thing is unfettered access for NGOs and the U.N.

KELEMEN: So far, the Security Council is only calling for unfettered access for chemical weapons inspectors. Michele Kelemen, NPR NEWS the United Nations. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.