Millions of Syrians will lose access to vital aid if northwest border closes

Muhammad Hassan and his family were forced to move to a camp in northwest Syria after their house was destroyed by intense bombing in 2019. Muhammad was severely injured in the leg, forcing him to undergo a difficult surgery, requiring the insertion of metal plates in his thigh.

This has left him with chronic pain, as well as psychological scars that can only be treated by securing his most basic needs. But this is almost impossible given the conditions he now lives in.

“Our life in the camp is one of worry, anguish, and pain,” Muhammad says. “We suffer from the cold in winter and the extreme heat in the summer.”

Muhammad is originally a farmer. The land was his source of livelihood, and in losing it, he lost the basic means of survival. Today he relies entirely on humanitarian aid. For the treatment of his leg, he goes to a hospital co-managed by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), where he receives free medical care.

The potential closure of the Bab Al-Hawa crossing point is a concern... If this crossing point were to be closed, it would cut off the lifeline providing people with aid.Osama Joukhadar, MSF’s Logistics Manager

Muhammad is one of around four million people living in northwest Syria. Of that number, the UN estimates that at least three million require some form of humanitarian aid. The 10 years of conflict, the COVID-19 pandemic and a severe economic crisis have further aggravated people’s vulnerability and their reliance on humanitarian aid in the region.

There are 2.7 million internally displaced people, and more than half of them live in camps run by humanitarian organiastions. Most of them are fully reliant on assistance to survive. Many are suffering from poor living conditions, a lack of mental health support and access to medical services such as vaccinations. It is common to see people suffering from skin conditions such as scabies or leishmaniasis, or medical conditions such as diabetes and other chronic diseases.

Across northwest Syria, our teams work to provide medical care, free of charge, both inside and outside the camps. Our services ranges from trauma and wound care, to maternal and child health services, as well as vaccination campaigns aimed at preventing the spread of deadly diseases. We currently support 8 hospitals, including a burns unit and 12 basic medical care centres, 5 referral ambulances and 14 mobile clinics in more than 80 camps.

“It might seem like humanitarian organisations are already providing a lot but the needs remain tremendous,” says Francisco Otero y Villar, MSF Head of Mission for Syria. “Millions of people rely on humanitarian aid to survive in northwest Syria, and everywhere we look there’s a feeling that there is still more to be done to help people.

“However this is very challenging,” says Otero y Villar. “The ongoing insecurity as well as access and supply constraints severely limit MSF’s and other actors’ ability to provide this desperately needed humanitarian assistance.”

In another camp in northwest Syria, Omar Sarhan suffers from diabetes and hemiplegia. He cannot move his hand or leg and needs the help of his relatives to move around. Omar cannot work and relies completely on humanitarian aid as well.

“I was displaced from my village a year ago and sought refuge in this camp, where we live a really difficult life,” Omar says. “The food we receive is very scarce, and sanitation is not good enough.”

One of the basic things that hinders Omar most is his ability to go to the toilet. In the camp, the latrines are far from the tents and shared by all those who are living there, while the way to it is rough and unpaved - especially difficult for someone in a wheelchair.

As well as medical activities, MSF also runs water, sanitation and hygiene services in around 90 camps for displaced people in northwest Syria. We distribute hygiene kits (composed of soap, towels, sanitary products), build latrines and toilets, improve sanitation, manage waste collection and supply water tanks.

In June 2021 alone, our teams distributed 6,000 hygiene kits in 60 camps, and around 29,000 cubic metres of water to more than 30,000 displaced people. MSF teams also built 100 latrines and distributed 240 latrine chairs for the elderly and disabled in 17 camps.

“The activity of many humanitarian organisations has decreased lately, namely in water, sanitation and hygiene services, as well as food baskets and hygiene kits distribution, so we tried to fill the gaps with this campaign,” says Osama Joukhadar, MSF’s Logistics Manager.

“But we are facing an increase of needs and a lack of resources in northwest Syria, and this will only get worse if Bab Al-Hawa, the last border-crossing point into this area, is closed,” says Joukhadar.

Our life in the camp is one of worry, anguish, and pain. We suffer from the cold in winter and extreme heat in summer.Muhammad Hassan, MSF patient

People in northwest Syria are now dreading 10 July, which is when the United Nations Security Council cross-border resolution (UNSCR 2533) for the provision of humanitarian aid into the area expires. More than four million people, over half of whom are internally displaced people, risk losing access to desperately needed humanitarian and medical aid if the resolution is not renewed.

“The potential closure of the Bab Al-Hawa crossing point is a concern for many people here, especially for the people in camps,” says Joukhadar. “If this crossing point were to be closed, it would cut off the lifeline providing people with aid.”

“All our activities, as well as the overall humanitarian response in the region, would be compromised,” says Joukhadar. “It would make the situation more alarming than it already is.”