Statement by Ambassador Xolisa Mabhongo, Deputy Permanent Representative of South Africa to the United Nations, during the Security Council Video Teleconference Meeting on the Humanitarian Situation in Syria, 29 April 2020

Thank you, Mr President,

Thank you also Under-Secretary-General Mark Lowcock for his comprehensive briefing on the humanitarian situation in Syria.

South Africa remains deeply concerned about the humanitarian situation in Syria. COVID-19 has added a further layer of complexity to this already catastrophic humanitarian situation. Given the multifaceted aspects of the humanitarian situation in Syria, we applaud the UN, its implementing partners and all of the volunteers and personnel, for their continued and committed efforts.

COVID-19 impact on humanitarian situation in Syria

With regard to the impact of COVID-19 on the humanitarian situation in Syria, South Africa fully supports the Secretary-General’s call for an immediate and global ceasefire and Special Envoy Pedersen’s call for an immediate nationwide ceasefire in Syria. In order to effectively fight the spread of this virus, we must ensure that the necessary equipment and supplies are available to all those who require it. Continued hostilities and violence will hinder and harm the effectiveness of the UN and the Syrian Government’s response to this pandemic.

An important aspect of this response is to focus on preparedness and response planning to minimise the impact of COVID-19 on vulnerable populations. This includes those in refugee and IDP camps, who are living in close proximity to each other, with limited access to basic services, such as water, shelter and medical services. We are additionally concerned that while all groups are susceptible to the virus, the elderly and people with underlying health conditions are particularly at risk, especially within vulnerable refugee and IDP populations.

Included in this response is the need for the necessary assessment and testing capacity. We encourage the international community to assist in ensuring that the necessary equipment is available in this regard.

However, without safe access to the areas where testing and aid is required, none of these efforts would be effective. This is important given that the collection of samples would be challenging for the thousands of displaced persons living in camps and informal settlements in northeast Syria, as well as in areas were hostilities may be ongoing, making sample collection more challenging, if not impossible.

South Africa calls on the relevant authorities to ensure that humanitarian workers have safe, sustained and unhindered access to all parts of Syria. It is also important that border crossings impacted due to the precautionary measures related to COVID-19, should not have a negative bearing on the delivery of humanitarian assistance to these vulnerable communities.

Mr President,

General humanitarian situation throughout Syria

While we are all, understandably, focussed on the impact of COVID-19, we cannot forget about the dire humanitarian situation that remains in Syria. The need for shelter, water, sanitation, food and protection remains high.

“The provision of these services, especially in the northwest, are dependent on the cross-border mechanism bringing in essential assistance to all those who require it. However, additional support is required in the northeast of Syria. With the closure of the Al Yarubiyah crossing point in January of this year, gaps in the provision of necessary aid to this region have emerged. In this regard, we call on the parties to make every effort to authorise all available modalities, including aid deliveries from Damascus, and cross-line and cross-border assistance, to ensure that the aid that thousands require is provided.

While we welcome the maintenance of the 5 March ceasefire agreement, we must also be cognisant of the effect that previous hostilities over the past decade has had on civilians and essential civilian infrastructure. The impact on the provision of basic services such as health, education and water has been severe. South Africa reiterates that all parties must adhere to their obligations under international humanitarian law, particularly with regard to the protection of civilians and civilian infrastructure.

Mr President,

In conclusion, South Africa reiterates that its position that when there is no progress on the political front, the humanitarian situation will further deteriorate with further loss of life and destruction. The only way the conflict in Syria can be resolved, is through negotiation and dialogue. South Africa calls on all parties to exert every effort to fully implement Resolution 2254 and bring peace, security and stability to all of Syria.

I thank you.

ISSUED BY THE DEPARTMENT OF INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS AND COOPERATION

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