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Updated On: Tuesday, 23 July 2019

Persons with Disabilities Face Exclusion, Psychosocial Challenges in Syria, Senior Humanitarian Affairs Official Tells Security Council

Content by: UN General Assembly
Improving Conditions Calls for Addressing Governments behind Terrorism, Says Syria’s Delegate, Urging Lifting of Sanctions

Among those suffering most from “a litany of horrors” in Syria are persons with disabilities, who are often excluded and face specific protection and psychosocial challenges, the Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs told the Security Council today, as she described deteriorating humanitarian conditions in the country.

“We must do our utmost to support and protect persons with disabilities, and to ensure that their specific and diverse needs are addressed,” said Ursula Mueller, stressing that more than 8 in 10 people live below the poverty line and nearly 12 million depend on humanitarian assistance.  Ms. Mueller is also the United Nations Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator.

Presenting the Secretary-General’s latest report (document S/2019/321), she said 200 civilians in Idlib Governorate have reportedly been killed by military clashes since February.  She called upon Turkey and the Russian Federation, in particular, as guarantors of the de-escalation agreement, to lower tensions and press all parties to implement the 17 September memorandum of understanding.  She said assistance transported through cross-border operations out of Turkey reaches 1.7 million Syrians each month.  “Ensuring this sustained humanitarian access is critical,” she emphasized.

She went on to note that civilians at Al-Hol camp, 92 per cent of whom are women and children, risk being denied repatriation, rehabilitation, reintegration, a fair trial or becoming Stateless despite having Syrian citizenship.  On the situation in Rukban, she said more than 7,000 people have left the camp in recent weeks, including nearly 2,000 on 23 April.  They organized their own transport to the border, from where they were taken to four shelters in Homs Governorate.  The deployment of a third humanitarian convoy to Rukban remains urgent, she stressed.

Echoing those sentiments, Nujeen Mustafa, a young woman from Aleppo with cerebral palsy, described the shame, discrimination and physical barriers to life complicated by war.  “Every day, I feared that I could be the reason my family was one or two seconds too late,” she said, emphasizing that thousands of people with disabilities across Syria struggle to survive with limited or no access to basic services.  An estimated 1.5 million people suffered a disability as a result of the war, she said, noting that in Idlib alone, 175,000 people with disabilities are among civilians who fear an escalation of military action and have nowhere left to flee.  All humanitarian programmes should include specific plans to help people with disabilities gain access to health services, assistive devices and psychosocial support, she said, urging the Council to make the slogan “no one left behind” more than mere words.  “This is our right.”

In the ensuing debate, Council members roundly praised Ms. Mustafa’s courage, with the Dominican Republic’s representative stressing: “It is a serious commitment to maintain the human aspect at the centre of this Council’s actions.”

Many speakers expressed concern over conditions in the Rukban settlement on the Syria-Jordan border, supporting calls for a third United Nations-led convoy to the camp.  Pointing out that the Assad regime has denied that request, the representative of the United States said “it is unacceptable to starve the Rukban residents into submission”.  He pressed the Russian Federation to ensure that Damascus provides immediate assistance to that area.  He went on to decry attempts by the Russian Federation and China to undermine the Council’s unanimous authorization of a cross-border humanitarian mechanism, which would ensure the United Nations has the operational capacity to carry out such deliveries.

The Russian Federation’s representative cautioned against “blaming Damascus for everything”.  While agreeing that coordinated assistance is needed, he emphasized that attempts to politicize the humanitarian dossier must be renounced.  Peace can be consolidated by ending the unlawful foreign occupation of several areas, especially in north-eastern Syria, and by helping the Government fight terrorist groups, he said.  The militants in control of Rukban camp are blocking the return of its residents to their homes, he added.

Equatorial Guinea’s representative declared:  “The Council’s ethical and moral duty is that people survive,” echoing a sentiment expressed repeatedly around the chamber.  Kuwait’s representative urged respect for the memorandum of understanding on Idlib signed by the Russian Federation and Turkey.  Meanwhile, the United Kingdom’s representative told her Russian counterpart that it has been proven “beyond a doubt” that the White Helmets organization are not terrorists but humanitarians.

Syria’s representative said his country has spared no effort to support its people and has cooperated with the United Nations to that end.  He added that improving humanitarian conditions calls for addressing terrorism and the Governments supporting it.  Calling for the immediate lifting of unilateral measures imposed on Syria, he said support should be provided to facilitate the return of displaced persons and refugees.  Noting that 1,120 days have passed since the forced captivity of people at Rukban by the United States, he said the detainees must be released and allowed to return home.

Also speaking today were representatives of France, Peru, Indonesia, South Africa, China, Poland and Côte d'Ivoire.

The meeting began at 3:11 p.m. and adjourned at 5:21 p.m.

Briefings

URSULA MUELLER, Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator, presented the latest report of the Secretary-General (document S/2019/321) on implementation of Security Council resolutions 2139 (2014), 2165 (2014), 2191 (2014), 2258 (2015), 2332 (2016), 2393 (2017), 2401 (2018) and 2449 (2018).  Noting that more than 8 in 10 people in Syria live below the poverty line and nearly 12 million depend on humanitarian assistance, she said that in Idlib, some 200 civilians have reportedly been killed since February by increased military clashes and attacks, with more than 120,000 people having fled to areas near the border with Turkey.  There were 11 attacks on schools in February and March alone, she said, adding that there are reports that air strikes hit two schools on 22 April, killing three children.  She called upon all parties, especially Turkey and the Russian Federation as guarantors of the de-escalation agreement, to rein in the current escalation and press all parties to implement the 17 September memorandum of understanding in full.

She went on to state that 2.7 million people across north-western Syria require assistance, including 1.7 million displaced persons.  Each month, assistance transported through cross-border operations out of Turkey reach some 1.7 million Syrians.  “Ensuring this sustained humanitarian access is critical,” she emphasized.  Turning to the tens of thousands of civilians at the Al Hol camp — 92 per cent of whom are women and children — she said most have been exposed to extreme violence and trauma under Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh).  They face an uncertain fate — including the risk of being denied repatriation, rehabilitation, reintegration or a fair trial — or even becoming Stateless despite having Syrian citizenship.

Stressing that all children — including those suspected of being associated with armed groups or terrorist groups — are entitled to special care and protection under international humanitarian law and international human rights law, she said Al-Hol camp hosts more than 73,000 civilians.  Almost two thirds of them are children under the age of 12, she added.  Some 43 per cent of the camp population are Syrians, 42 per cent Iraqis and 15 per cent other foreign nationals.  While the humanitarian community is ensuring that all those in need receive aid, access to the annex remains constrained, particularly for partners requiring a permanent presence there.

She went on to state that the United Nations continues to advocate with the Syrian authorities for the deployment of surge staff from Damascus to support teams operating in the north-east who have been responding to successive crises for months.  The authorities recently approved the deployment of an inter-agency convoy to help 50,000 people in the area — a first step.  Highlighting the situation in Rukban, she said more than 7,000 people have left the site in recent weeks, including nearly 2,000 on 23 April.  Those who left organized their own transport to the border area, from where they were taken to four collective shelters in Homs Governorate through both private and Government vehicles, she said.  Some people, mostly men, remain in the shelters for a longer period while they settle their status with the authorities.

Colleagues in Damascus have reiterated the willingness of the United Nations to be involved and today, and Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs teams gained access to the shelters for the first time, she continued, emphasizing:  “We must be fully engaged from start to finish”, and advocating for full, unimpeded and sustained access to the shelters, as well as to areas of origin and destination and people en route.  While efforts are under way in the pursuit of lasting solutions, sustained assistance for those remaining in Rukban is just as necessary because the food, medicines and other life-saving supplies delivered in February are running low.  The United Nations has sought authorization to deliver life-saving assistance but was informed by the authorities on 22 April that such a convoy would not be possible.

Among those suffering most from “a litany of horrors” are persons with disabilities, she said, noting that they are often excluded and highly vulnerable.  Many lack access to health care and education, she added, noting that they face specific protection and psychosocial challenges.  “We must do our utmost to support and protect persons with disabilities,” she said, emphasizing the need to ensure that their diverse needs are addressed, notably by ensuring service accessibility, training staff and collecting data disaggregated by disability.

NUJEEN MUSTAFA, introducing herself as a young woman from Aleppo with cerebral palsy, said “having a disability in Syria often means that you are hidden away”.  Describing the shame, discrimination and physical barriers she was forced to endure every day, she said that although her family were supportive, their situation was complicated by the onset of the war.  She said that, living in a tall building without a lift, she would be carried down flights of stairs if she needed to escape quickly.  She added that her family received regular news of relatives and friends who had been killed, and helicopters buzzed constantly overhead.  “Every day, I feared that I could be the reason my family was one or two seconds too late,” she said, adding that her family finally decided to flee in 2015, but her journey was made doubly difficult both because of her disability and because she is a woman.

Pointing out that the challenges of war cause structures for people with disabilities to break down, she said that leaves them at higher risk of suffering violence.  Thousands of people with disabilities across Syria struggle to survive with limited or no access to basic services, she said, adding that they lack accessibility and face the constant threat of violence — especially against women and girls.  Meanwhile, an estimated 1.5 million people suffered a disability as a result of the war and now face social stigma and exclusion.  The use of landmines and cluster bombs — despite being banned by most Governments — has had a devastating impact, with thousands of Syrians losing limbs, she said, noting that the conflict has also had a significant psychological impact.  In Idlib, for example, the civilian population — including an estimated 175,000 people with disabilities — fear an escalation of military action and have nowhere left to flee.

Calling upon the Council to do more in facilitating humanitarian access to those who need it, she said many people with disabilities struggle even to reach sites where they can receive aid.  She emphasized that all humanitarian programmes should include specific plans for providing people with disabilities with health services, assistive devices and psychosocial support, he said.  Warning against treating that segment of the population as an afterthought, she called for better data on how many people with disabilities fled Syria and the nature of their needs.  “The Security Council’s job is to protect all civilians, including people with disabilities,” she stressed, urging members to make the slogan “no one left behind” more than mere words.  People with disabilities, including women, should also be able to participate meaningfully in the Council’s work, she said.  “This is not a favour, and this is not charity”, she added, underlining:  “This is our right.”

Statements

MANSOUR AYYAD SH. A. ALOTAIBI (Kuwait), speaking also for Belgium and Germany, expressed his delegation’s extreme concern over the recent spike in aerial bombardments and shelling in north-western Syria which forced the displacement of more than 110,000 civilians since February.  He strongly condemned the loss of civilian life, recalling in that context Council resolutions 2286 (2016) and 2427 (2018).  “The fight against terrorism must not impede principled humanitarian action,” he emphasized, calling for implementation of the Russian Federation-Turkey memorandum of understanding on Idlib, and for a nationwide cessation of hostilities.  He went on to describe the situation in Al-Hol camp as one of great concern and called upon all parties to the conflict to allow sustained access to displaced people.  The United Nations must be able to provide needs-based assistance to all in need, he emphasized, strongly advocating for sustained access to Rukban until a lasting solution is found.  Reiterating that any return of refugees must be safe, voluntary and dignified, he rejected attempts to “make demographic changes” in Syria.

JONATHAN R. COHEN (United States) said his country will continue to advocate for the inclusion of persons with disabilities in humanitarian assistance planning, and to seek accountability and justice for those arbitrarily detained or missing in Syria.  Expressing strong support for a third United Nations-led humanitarian convoy to Rukban camp, he said the Assad regime has denied a request by the United Nations.  “It is unacceptable to starve the Rukban residents into submission,” he emphasized, calling upon the Russian Federation to ensure that Damascus provide assistance to that area immediately and stop blocking traffic.  Cross-border assistance is a critical lifeline for 11 million people, he said, urging the Council to support the cross-border humanitarian mechanism.  He also expressed concern over attempts by the Russian Federation and China to undermine the Council’s unanimous authorization of such a mechanism and pressed the Council to ensure that the United Nations has the operational capacity to carry out such deliveries, in accordance with resolution 2449 (2018).  Although the Assad regime prioritizes assistance to areas under its own control, even those areas rely on approvals that are purposely delayed, he said, stressing the importance of cross-border operations from all four border crossings.  The United States is committed to the voluntary and safe return of internally displaced persons and refugees, who should be able to reclaim their property or be given adequate compensation for it, he said.  He went on to express alarm over the surge in air strikes by the Russian Federation and the regime, saying they have displaced 110,000 people and stressing that the Russian-Turkish ceasefire must hold.

JOSÉ SINGER WEISINGER (Dominican Republic) said Ms. Mustafa’s participation underscores the need for the Council to keep its doors open to those who have no voice, and to recall that beyond statistics, there are millions of human stories.  “It is a serious commitment to maintain the human aspect at the centre of this Council’s actions,” he emphasized.  Syrian civilians, especially women and girls, are impacted by the crisis because the frequent loss of civilian documentation jeopardizes their health care, he said, stressing that a coordination mechanism must be created to help Syrian women.  It is of great concern to see growing hostilities in northern Syria, he said, noting that they are forcing thousands to seek refuge in camps.  Such massive displacement, alongside recent flooding in the north-east, creates significant operational and protection challenges, he pointed out.  Calling upon all parties to respect international humanitarian law and stop attacks against hospitals and schools, he said counter-terrorism operations should do likewise and protect civilians.  He also pressed the parties to implement the ceasefire in Idlib, calling for safe, timely and unimpeded access for aid throughout Syria, and for teams on the ground to bolster their partnerships with local entities.

FRANÇOIS DELATTRE (France) said the Council must now, more than ever, work to preserve the ceasefire in Idlib, ensure humanitarian access across Syria and facilitate a lasting political solution.  Noting that further joint reflection is needed to provide a more coordinated response to the threats posed by terrorist groups in the region, he said the protection of medical personnel is absolutely critical, emphasizing that any attacks against them amount to war crimes.  All stakeholders must respect their obligations under international humanitarian law, which are not negotiable, he said.  Turning to humanitarian access, he expressed concern that of the 338 requests for access made to the Syrian regime in March, only half were authorized.  Echoing calls for the deployment of a new aid convoy to Rukban, he said the humanitarian response in north-eastern Syria must also be stepped up.  France has released emergency funds for that purpose, he said, also pledging to continue to support efforts towards a political solution in accordance with Council resolution 2254 (2015) and the Geneva Communiqué.  It would be a grave mistake to turn the page and look away from Syria at this moment, not least because there is now a “small but real window of opportunity” to secure a lasting peace, he stressed.

VLADIMIR K. SAFRONKOV (Russian Federation) said the situation in Syria has stabilized significantly, with breakthroughs made in the fight against terrorism and reduced violence in areas controlled by the legitimate Government.  However, the situation remains complex and coordinated international assistance is needed to consolidate gains and sustain normalization, he said.  “We must renounce any attempt to politicize the humanitarian dossier as well as any double standards”, he emphasized, warning against continued attempts to “blame Damascus for everything”.  Instead, peace could be further consolidated by ending the unlawful foreign occupation of a number of areas, especially in the north-east, and by helping Syria fight terrorist groups, he said.  Meanwhile, unilateral sanctions continue to threaten civilians, undermine the functioning of medical centres and impede the flow of fuel into Syria, he noted.  Outlining efforts by the Government — alongside the Russian Federation and other partners — to rebuild homes and repair civilian infrastructure, he said that some 1,000 refugees and many internally displaced persons are now returning to their homes each day.  Expressing concern over the dire humanitarian situation in Al-Hol camp, he said it was designed for 40,000 people but is now crowded with twice that number, adding that the militants in control of the Rukban camp are blocking the return of its residents to their homes.  Meanwhile, the “pseudo-humanitarian” White Helmets group continues to fabricate allegations against the Government, including claims relating to the use of chemical agents, he said.

GUSTAVO MEZA-CUADRA (Peru) applauded efforts by the Russian Federation and Turkey to deploy joint patrols in order to implement the full scope of their Idlib agreement and prevent that situation from escalating into yet another massive tragedy.  He underlined the need to continue to address the growing needs of the many internally displaced persons in Al-Hol, who were forced to flee their homes following clashes with the remnants of ISIL.  Moreover, the meeting slated for Astana next week should seek further cooperation on such matters as the release of prisoners, delivery of human remains and the return of disappeared persons, all of which would help to ease tensions, he said.

DIAN TRIANSYAH DJANI (Indonesia) urged all parties to the conflict to do their utmost to protect civilians, stressing the need to stop heinous attacks against schools and medical facilities and to ensure that basic infrastructure is not targeted.  Moreover, all parties must allow safe, unimpeded and sustained humanitarian access to all in need throughout Syria, he said, emphasizing that all parties must enable delivery by the United Nations throughout the country.  He also called for a carefully planned and principled approach to the situation in Rukban, stressing that it must not create additional harm to traumatized and displaced people.

Ms. GOOLAB (South Africa) expressed concern about the escalation of violence in some parts of Syria, especially the large number of civilians reportedly killed in Idlib and Deir es-Zor.  Indeed, severe flooding and extreme cold have added to the burden of suffering for the Syrian people.  Calling upon all parties to uphold their commitments and obligations under international law, she welcomed reports of people leaving Rukban to return to their homes or other destinations of their choice.  However, all parties must ensure that the necessary conditions are met for those returns to be safe, voluntary, dignified and well-informed, he emphasized.  She encouraged relevant stakeholders to ensure the necessary approvals are granted for additional convoys, especially with Ramadan approaching fast.

YAO SHAOJUN (China) advocated a tailored approach to the situation entailing support for the Government of Syria and people in socioeconomic reconstruction, and for the return of Syrian refugees.  Welcoming the recent return of refugees from Lebanon and Jordan, he noted that some in the Rukban camp have left of their own accord.  While calling for greater financial and in-kind assistance, he emphasized that United Nations humanitarian operations must respect Syria’s sovereignty, adhere to Council resolutions and step up their coordination with the Government.  The fight against terrorism also must continue, he stressed, warning that leaving terrorist groups unchecked in Idlib would place Syria in jeopardy.  The international community, meanwhile, should apply uniform criteria for countering terrorist groups designated by the Council, he said, underlining the need to continue efforts to advance a political settlement.  The international community must also support the United Nations as the main mediator and push the parties to find a solution through negotiations, while respecting the Syrian-led, Syrian-owned process, in accordance with resolution 2254 (2015), he said.

MARIUSZ LEWICKI (Poland) the humanitarian situation in Syria cannot be discussed without taking the situation of persons with disabilities into account.  Any military operation should be carried out in strict accordance with international law and in a manner that prevents harm to the thousands of civilians trapped in the middle of the fighting, he emphasized.  Noting that scarce information has been collected about the number of persons with disabilities in Syria and the barriers they experience, he said that concern was one of the conclusions emerging from the Arria formula meeting on persons with disabilities in armed conflict, which Poland organized in 2018.  He went on to express concern about the dramatic challenges facing hospitals, most of which are no longer functional or are too poorly equipped to provide care to injured patients or support persons with disabilities.  He called for increased delivery of aid to Rukban and for full implementation of the Idlib de-escalation zone agreement between Turkey and the Russian Federation, while asking Ms. Mueller for more information about the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs’ collection of disaggregated data in Syria.

GBOLIÉ DÉSIRÉ WULFRAN IPO (Côte d’Ivoire) expressed concern that the number of internally displaced persons in Al-Hol camp has increased significantly and that floods are impacting people throughout that area.  Welcoming the fact that more than 4,000 people have recently been able to return home from Rukban camp, he emphasized that returns must be safe, voluntary and dignified.  Despite the ceasefire negotiated by the Russian Federation and Turkey in Idlib Governorate, the region has nevertheless seen an escalation in fighting, he noted, calling upon the parties to uphold their obligations under the de-escalation zone agreement.  The parties must also prioritize dialogue as they work towards relaunching the peace process and ending the crisis, which has already lasted far too long, he said.

KAREN PIERCE (United Kingdom) thanked Ms. Mustafa for sharing her moving story, emphasizing that the Council owes it to her to make life for Syrians better and bring the crisis to an end.  On the political process, she echoed the sentiments expressed by the representatives of the United States, France and Poland.  She went on to ask the Assistant Secretary-General what the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs considers improved access and where challenges remain.  She then asked Ms. Mustafa to say the one action the Council can take to help people in her situation, recalling that there are 175,000 persons with disabilities in Idlib alone.  “What should it mean to us tomorrow?”  Turning to the Russian Federation’s representative, she urged him to stop telling lies about the While Helmets, a volunteer humanitarian organization.  “It has been proved beyond doubt they are not terrorists, they are humanitarians,” she said, urging the Russian Federation and China to support the United Nations in monitoring cross-border aid deliveries.  She then asked Syria’s representative to comment on the situation of persons with disabilities, in recognition that such issues have been non-political throughout the United Nations.  This is not a political issue, she reiterated, asking what the Syrian authorities are doing to address their situation, particularly women and girls, in the worst-hit places, such as Aleppo and Idlib.  Why is it not possible to provide the United Nations with unconditional access to the Rukban camp, she asked, requesting that he assure the Council that the ceasefire in Idlib will be respected without qualification.

AMPARO MELE COLIFA (Equatorial Guinea) urged a resolution of the situation in Idlib as soon as possible, emphasizing that any sweeping military attack would threaten lives and make humanitarian efforts more difficult.  Everything possible must be done to prevent the use of explosives in populated areas, she said, urging strict adherence to international humanitarian law.  The demilitarized zone must also be respected in order to prevent massive displacement, she said, advocating the removal of improvised explosive devices and landmines.  “The Council’s ethical and moral duty is that people survive,” she pointed out.  “And yet, this continues to be an extreme challenge,” she added, pointing to Al-Hol and Rukban camps.  A consensus must be reached on meeting the immediate needs of displaced and traumatized persons, she said, recalling that the third Brussels Conference on Supporting the future of Syria and the region attracted $7 billion to finance the humanitarian plan.  That reflects global solidarity with Syrians and neighbouring countries, she said, pressing donors to fulfil their pledges.

MOUNZER MOUNZER (Syria) said his compatriots are victims of hypocrisy on the part of countries that continue to steer and invest in terrorism, while imposing an economic embargo on them.  Governments sponsoring terrorism in Syria seek to exploit the crisis to achieve their own goals, he added, urging them to stop bombing cities, killing civilians and damaging infrastructure.  “These regimes are responsible for the suffering of the Syrian people,” he emphasized.  Syria, for its part, has spared no effort to provide support to its people, regardless of where they are, having cooperated with the United Nations and other international organizations working in the country.  He said the path to improving the humanitarian situation requires, first, addressing terrorism and the Governments supporting it because crimes perpetrated by the so-called international coalition have killed thousands and caused untold damage.  Next, unilateral measures imposed on Syrians must be immediately lifted, as must the deliberate politicization of humanitarian matters, as seen during the Brussels conference, where humanitarian action was associated with political conditions, he recalled.

He went on to stress that Syria requires support to facilitate the return of displaced persons and donors must help to advance that goal.  The people living in Idlib under the threat of Al-Nusra Front and other terrorist groups must be saved and the suffering of tens of thousands of civilians in areas controlled by foreign forces ended, he said, noting that 1,120 days have passed since the forced captivity by the United States of people at Rukban camp.  Detainees must be released and allowed to return home, he said, adding that the Government has done its utmost to alleviate their suffering.  The camp must be dismantled and safe transport out of the area assured.  The only way to alleviate the suffering is for Governments to stop sponsoring terrorism, he stressed.  Syria’s institutions are working to support all people, including persons with disabilities, he said, adding that every city has educational facilities to serve them and the Government has made great efforts to assist them.

Members then responded to the questions posed throughout the meeting.

CHRISTOPH HEUSGEN (Germany), Council President for April, spoke in his national capacity in response to Syria’s representative, who accused Council members of hypocrisy and lacking any real concern for the Syrian people.  Pointing out that his country has taken in hundreds of thousands of Syrians, he said Germany has also heard their first-hand accounts of being bombed and gassed by their own Government, or sexually violated in their own homes.  He added that Germany supports the International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism in Syria, which is pursuing the first prosecutions of crimes committed during the war.

The Assistant Secretary-General the took the floor again, responding to questions.  She said disaggregated data are critical for effective humanitarian programming and addressing the diverse needs of Syria’s population.  Humanitarian agencies continue to refine their data collection and to extend help to all those in need, she said.  The most recent comprehensive overview of those needs — including those of persons with disabilities in Syria — was released in March, she added.  What is crucial now is that donors step up to meet them, she said, pointing out that the $7 billion pledged during the Brussels funding conference is currently funded at only 8 per cent.  Responding to the United Kingdom’s representative in relation to improvements and challenges in humanitarian access, she noted that humanitarian agencies conducted more than 1,200 missions in March to newly accessible areas.  The major challenges now include blocked access to Rukban camp and continuing inability to support operations in Al-Hol, she said.

Ms. MUSTAFA, also responding to questions, said that she and other members of the community of persons with disabilities will watch to see whether the Council’s promises of inclusion are, in fact, turned into action.  Members can ensure that persons with disabilities are included in all their work — including drafting of resolutions, programming and funding — and to make sure their specific needs are met, she emphasized.  “You have given a voice to a woman with a disability in this Council today,” she said, expressing hope that such briefings will be regularized.

The representative of the United Kingdom also took the floor a second time, pointing out that Syria’s representative responded to only one of the three questions put to him.  Repeating the other two, he asked why the Government of Syria is preventing an aid convoy from reaching Rukban camp and whether it will make a clear commitment to respect the ceasefire agreement in Idlib.

The representative China, responding to a question posed by the United Kingdom’s delegate, said his country’s Government supports cross-border aid deliveries.  However, since they have budgetary implications, such deliveries are the domain of the General Assembly’s Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary), where consensus on that matter has already been reached, he said.  There is, therefore, no need to bring it up in the Council, he added.

The representative of Syria said the countries responsible for hypocrisy — and for the crisis itself — “know who they are”.  Describing the responses provided as further evidence of politicization, he quoted two letters related to the Rukban camp situation, in which Syria expressed its readiness to support a third humanitarian convoy as long as it does not fall into the hands of terrorists, as has happened in the past.  As for Idlib, he pointed out that civilians in the governorate suffer daily bombings and attacks by terrorists, emphasizing that no guarantee is possible against an escalation of such attacks.

The representative of Germany then asked Syria’s representative whether his country’s Government will support and follow international rules on the safe, voluntary, dignified and well-informed return of refugees to their homes.

The representative of Syria responded by pointing out that his country was the first to call for the return of refugees and has never stopped doing so.  Other parties, not the Government, are responsible for impeding their return, he stressed.

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