ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — The U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations announced on Thursday nearly $240 million in humanitarian funding to support the people of Syria, Syrian refugees and countries hosting them, and called for access through international crossings to allow the delivery of aid.
Linda Thomas-Greenfield made the announcement during a visit to the Bab al-Hawa border crossing between Turkey and Syria — the sole remaining point of access for humanitarian aid to enter the conflict-ravaged country.
The ambassador is in Turkey on a four-day visit seeking to ensure that humanitarian aid can be delivered to Syria across borders — a program which Russia, Syria’s closest ally, has severely limited in recent years, insisting that the Syrian government should control all assistance to millions in need. The international crossing points were reduced to a single border crossing from Turkey to Syria’s rebel-held northwest at Russia’s insistence.
“I’m proud to announce the United States is providing nearly $240 million in additional humanitarian funding for the people of Syria and for the communities that host them,” Thomas-Greenfield said, according to a statement from her office. “Right now, more than 13 million Syrian people are in dire need of assistance. That’s the population of Los Angeles, New York City, and Washington D.C. combined.”
She added: “Four in five people in northwest Syria need humanitarian assistance. For millions of civilians in Idlib, this is their lifeline. Over the last year and a half, some members of the Security Council succeeded in shamefully closing two other crossings into Syria... Bab al-Hawa is literally all that’s left.”
The United States is seeking the reauthorization of U.N. access at Bab al-Hawa and the reopening of other border crossings before the current U.N. Security Council mandate for humanitarian aid deliveries expires on July 10. There is strong support in the 15-member council for maintaining and even adding border crossings, but Russia holds the key.
“This isn’t a complicated issue. We want the U.N. to bring food to starving children and protection to homeless families. We want the U.N. to be able to deliver vaccines in the middle of a global pandemic. We want the suffering to stop,” Thomas-Greenfield said.
She met Wednesday with Ibrahim Kalin, a top aide to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Turkey hosts some 4 million refugees.
The talks come ahead of U.S. President Joe Biden’s first meeting with Erdogan on the sidelines of the NATO summit in Brussels on June 14.
Ties between Ankara and Washington, which once considered each other as strategic partners, steadily deteriorated in recent years over differences on Syria, Turkey’s cooperation with Russia and Turkish naval interventions in the eastern Mediterranean, which U.S. officials have described as destabilizing.
The U.S. Agency for International Development, or USAID, said the new U.S. funding announced by Thomas-Greenfield, would support aid agencies providing assistance, “including food for displaced families in Syria and the region” and support bakeries in Syria.
It would also provide psychosocial support and other services for children, rehabilitate water and sanitation systems and provide cash or vouchers to help Syrians meet basic needs.
USAID said the United States was the world’s largest donor to the Syria crisis, and has provided more than $13 billion since the start of the conflict.