Humanitarian assistance does not seem to be part of the negotiations between Western countries. There is a striking contrast between the intense diplomatic activity around the Syrian crisis and the absence of initiatives to increase life-saving aid to the Syrian people.
The confirmed use of chemical weapons in Syria marks a new step in the war, and has been denounced around the world and across the political spectrum. But the death of tens of thousands of civilians by other means, and the denial of vital humanitarian aid for millions, seems to be met with quiet acceptance.
For the past two years, the bulk of international humanitarian aid – provided by the U.N. and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) – has been channelled through Damascus and distributed according under the tight control of the government. This same government prohibits the provision of medical assistance to people living in opposition-held areas.
These areas are subject to bombings that target health centers as well as average citizens – everyone from bakers to doctors – who are trying to help their neighbors.
Just a few days ago, a field hospital in al-Bab, northern Syria, was bombed by Bashar al-Assad’s air force, killing nine patients and two medical staff.
Despite the generosity of neighboring countries, which have taken in more than 2 million refugees, people fleeing the violence in Syria still face enormous physical difficulties in leaving Syria, and insecurity and destitution once they succeed.
Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) calls upon states and international organizations to make humanitarian aid to the Syrian people a priority.
The humanitarian blockade crippling Syrians living in opposition-held areas must be lifted. This starts with the eastern suburbs of Damascus. All diplomatic efforts must be taken to ensure that agencies are able to provide emergency assistance to the people of Syria.
Allies of both the Syrian government and the opposition should put pressure on their partners to commit to ensuring the safety of civilians, journalists and aid workers.
As two such humanitarian aid workers, it is not for us to take a political position on a possible Western retaliation for chemical weapons strikes or on an armed intervention. But we are duty-bound to speak out when aid is so demonstrably being prevented from reaching the people who need it most.