Small amount of aid getting into Syria, charities say

Enclaves across the country where no aid reaching those ‘trapped inside’

Only a very limited amount of aid is getting into Syria despite the millions of people in need of help, charities working in the conflict-torn country have told an Oireachtas committee.

Less than 20 UN and Red Cross convoys have crossed frontlines this year to deliver help to people affected by the fighting with aid generally confined to a small area close to the Turkish border, said Jane-Ann McKenna, director of Médecins Sans Frontières Ireland, which operates six hospitals inside Syria.

Enclaves exist across the country "where virtually no aid is reaching people trapped inside", she told the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade.

The needs of the population are constantly increasing: 6.8 million Syrians, half of them children, need aid. Inside the country 4.5 million had left their homes while millions live in camps outside Syria. While the fighting is causing deaths and injuries, people are also dying from preventable diseases such as cancer and diabetes because of a lack of medicines. “These are the silent casualties ... they are dying slowly,” said Ms McKenna.

Hospitals were being targeted during fighting and health workers in government hospitals had been threatened not to go to work, she added. “The situation is so extreme that some doctors have said that they feel it is more dangerous for them to be caught carrying medical supplies than if they were caught carrying weapons,” she said.

A humanitarian corridor should be set up to protect aid distribution, without it the "situation will deteriorate further", said Jonathan Edgar of Goal, which works in the north-west of Syria.

There was hope with the holding of peace talks scheduled for November but the urgency of the situation meant a solution had to be found to the humanitarian crisis now, he said.

The United Nations was working in "specific areas" of the country but "not where the need is the greatest", he added.

The UN was "stymied" since it was unable to move around the country without the sanction of the Syrian government, said Ross O'Sullivan of Concern. "The UN will have to change the way they work ... it isn't fit for purpose in certain contexts," he said. Funding should be directed to whatever body was working in certain areas and where the UN was struggling to operate "that should be recognised", the committee was told.