Children in the snow at a camp for internally displaced Syrians near Afrin city. Children in the snow at a camp for internally displaced Syrians near Afrin city.  (AFP or licensors)

UN relief chief urges immediate life-saving aid for Syrians

The people of Syria continue to struggle under a surge in violence, a deepening economic and food crisis and a bitter winter storm.

By Robin Gomes

The chief of the United Nations relief efforts has made an appeal to member states and its partners to urgently reach more Syrians with immediate life-saving aid, as the country struggles with a surge in violence, a deepening economic crisis, and a winter storm that has left a ‘trail of destruction' in its wake.

“It is not over for the Syrian people. And your responsibility is not over either,” UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Martin Griffiths told the Security Council on Thursday.

Surge in violence

Griffiths particularly drew attention to the 25 January siege by Islamic State militants on a prison in northeast Syria that holds around 3,000 of its fighters and about 700 children.  Citing reports by the UN children’s fund UNICEF, he expressed concern for children trapped inside the prison in Hassakeh city, one of the largest detention facilities in Syria that U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish fighters are trying to wrest back. 

The prisoners’ predicament echoes the situation of the country, Griffiths said.  “We are failing the Syrian people, young and old,” he said, lamenting they are not even provided with the minimum of protection, relief and social services.

“Failure each year cannot be our strategy,” he said, urging member states to work with the UN and other key humanitarian agencies on a new approach.

The Under-Secretary-General also spoke about the uptick in violence.  Since the start of 2022, there has been an increase in airstrikes on infrastructure, including farms and water.  He reiterated his appeal that “civilians, especially children, and civilian objects must be protected”.


Over 6.7 million people have been internally displaced in a decade of war in Syria, while another 6.8 million live as refugees in neighbouring countries such as Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. Most displaced people have found shelter in tents, unfinished buildings, and sheds, leaving them particularly vulnerable to harsh winter conditions.

Harsh winter weather

On top of the effects of conflict, unusually bitter winter storms last week left a trail of destruction, exacerbating the already critical humanitarian needs.  At least 227 displacement sites have been hit, forcing the people to burn garbage to stay warm and risk asphyxiation.   He said in December, at least 24 people were injured and 2 died due to tent fires.

Griffiths described Syrian girls and boys shivering in tents in the snow, while others are stuck in displacement camps or detention facilities, and millions more - lucky enough to have housing – are still missing out on a healthy diet and reliable schooling.

Food crisis

Syria’s food crisis also remains precarious with the cost of food soaring to new highs in each of the last four months.  The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) reports that wheat production dropped by over 60 percent in 2021 alone. 

With needs increasing and international aid declining, “the food aid we provide to millions of people each month is just not enough,” Griffiths warned.

He reiterated that civilians need food, medicine, other lifesaving items, basic services and protection from harm which give them a chance to live a dignified life.  In order to reach more people with immediate life-saving assistance, Griffiths said, they need funds for sustained operations and expand access.

The UN relief coordinator called for ongoing support for the UN’s six-month plan for humanitarian operations, drawing attention to early recovery projects to support food production and the cross-line delivery of aid to Syria’s northwest.  (Source: UN News)

28 January 2022, 14:02