UN humanitarian agencies on Tuesday welcomed the news that two more border crossings are to open into northwest Syria from Türkiye, to transport relief supplies for survivors of the earthquake disaster in both countries that have likely claimed tens of thousands of lives.
“We very, very much welcome this announcement that there are additional crossings now to get into northwest Syria from Türkiye,” said Kenn Crossley, WFP Country Director in Syria, after Syrian President Bashar al-Assad agreed to temporarily open the crossing points of Bab Al-Salam and Al Ra’ee for an initial period of three months.
Speaking from Damascus to journalists in Geneva via Zoom, Mr. Crossley insisted that humanitarian access needed reach people “wherever they are from, wherever we can get to them”.
Drawing on the existing partnerships, supply chains and food stocks, WFP began distributing hot-meals and ready to eat food in shelters with local partners within hours from the earthquake.
“Roughly 90,000 people within northwest Syria have been receiving specific food assistance related directly to the impact of the earthquake”, the WFP official said. “They've been also receiving regular assistance through our previous pipeline, another approximately 90,000 people.”
WFP’s logistics cluster is working with all humanitarian partners to boost aid access through the new entry points into northwest Syria. A WFP convoy of 18 trucks of food assistance, as well as other aid from multiple UN agencies is ready to bring assistance into northwest Syria.
"So, within northwest Syria, where a lot of the attention has been focused, we're confident that we've been able to work with partners to provide enough food for between 150,000 and 180,000 people as of today", said Mr. Crossley.
The International Organization for Migration (IOM) also announced earlier on Tuesday that an 11-truck convoy left the agency’s Gaziantep warehouse bound for about Bab Al-Salam, one of the reopened border crossings.
“In addition, four other trucks have also left from this sprawling IOM warehouse we operate in Gaziantep bound for Bab al-Hawa”, said Paul Dillon, IOM’s spokesperson, in reference to the existing cross-border entry point into largely opposition-held northwest Syria. “We're still waiting on confirmation that these two convoys have crossed.”
Eight days since the devastating earthquakes, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) highlighted that youngsters are still extremely vulnerable in impacted areas: some 4.6 million lived in Türkiye before the disaster and another 2.5 million were known to be in Syria. The number of children killed and injured during the quakes and their aftermath has not yet been confirmed, but is likely to be in the many thousands, said UNICEF spokesperson James Elder.
“This is trauma on top of trauma”, the UNICEF spokesperson said. “I call it what you will compound trauma for these children is unyielding trauma. To give a quick sense of that psychological first aid, we've trained 70 additional trainers in Syria. We've released hundreds of recreational kits which bring basics of stimulation and learning, a little bit of normalcy”.
In both Türkiye and Syria, child protection is a high priority for UNICEF, including the identification and reunification of separated and unaccompanied children. Some of the children have been displaced five or six times.
Reiterating the importance of establishing cross-line movements into northwest Syria, Christian Lindmeier, spokesperson for the World Health Organization (WHO) said that the “the Government has just recently on 12 February given the recent blanket approval for cross-line movements for UN convoys. That's important to say.”. He added: “Again, this is not only from one side, this also needs the receiving side for convoys to be ready and to …receive convoys. This is why this is a constant back-and-forth negotiations. Every party has to agree to receive convoys to let them go unhindered and that is the biggest challenge.”