Syria: UN convoy crosses lines to reach children fleeing besieged Kobane

A UN truck with humanitarian supplies at the Turkish side of the border awaiting green light to cross to the Syrian side, in March 2014. Photo: OCHA

A UN truck with humanitarian supplies at the Turkish side of the border awaiting green light to cross to the Syrian side, in March 2014. Photo: OCHA

Syria, 21 October 2014 – Trucks carrying lifesaving supplies for Syrian children have managed to cross over the battle line in Aleppo for the first time in months, a spokesperson for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said today in what was described as a “small but significant breakthrough” in the UN agency’s efforts to help children displaced by the fighting in Kobane.

Speaking to reporters in Geneva, UNICEF spokesperson, Christophe Boulierac, explained that five trucks departing from the Government-controlled city of Aleppo succeeded in reaching the suburb of Afrin, a small district due north, where thousands of children fleeing the fighting in Kobane have taken refuge. The trucks were carrying a number of supplies including hygiene kits, blankets, water and high energy biscuits and would be distributed by volunteer teams from the Syrian Arab Red Crescent.

The conflict in Syria, which began in March 2011, has led to well over 150,000 deaths, and more than 680,000 people have been injured. It has also spawned a refugee crisis in which some 2.5 million people are being sheltered in neighbouring countries. At least 10.8 million people are in need of assistance inside Syria, including at least 6.5 million who are internally displaced.

At the same time, the civil war has fractured amid the introduction of a number of militant groups vying for control of Syria’s cities, including the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), whose ongoing siege of the Syrian border town of Kobane has added to the humanitarian crisis of displaced persons and refugees.

Mr. Boulierac told journalists that the convoy’s arrival in Afrin was a “significant” step for UNICEF as the city had not received any assistance for at least 12 months, noting that the children there had been “among the hardest to reach due to the conflict.” In addition, he pointed out that the UN agency would be joining a UN convoy taking similar assistance to Afrin and other towns in north-western Syria which had been beyond the reach of humanitarian aid for as long as six months.

The spokesperson cautioned, however, that UNICEF needed similar convoys to reach other children throughout the country and adding that that would be increasingly difficult if the agency’s budget shortfall were not addressed immediately.

UNICEF has only received 50 per cent of the funds it requested and still requires some $94 million by the end of the year in order to maintain humanitarian operations in the country. Without the injection of funding, warned Mr. Boulierac, the agency risked reducing or “completely bringing to a halt” some of the assistance it was giving to the 5 million children in need inside the country.