UNHCR withdraws some staff members from Syria

A fire-damaged building in Syria. For security reasons, the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees is temporarily pulling out some staff members from Syria’s al-Hasakah province. Photo by: David Manyua / United Nations

Amid rising insecurity in Syria, how can the international community ensure the safety of people delivering humanitarian aid in the strife-torn country?

A spokeswoman for the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees announced Tuesday (Nov. 13) that the agency is temporarily pulling out some staff members from Syria’s al-Hasakah province. Parts of the area have reportedly been exposed to deadly fighting between opposition and government forces, affecting aid delivery.

“Recent deliveries have been very difficult,” Melissa Fleming told reporters in Geneva, according to a press release. “Last week, humanitarian operations were disrupted on at least two days in Damascus because of insecurity.”

Recent incidents have led to loss of aid supplies for displaced Syrians, Fleming said. Some 13,000 blankets, which are needed during the winter season, were destroyed in a fire at a Syrian Red Crescent warehouse in Aleppo. An additional 600 blankets were also “hijacked” by unidentified men in a town near Damascus.

UNHCR operates in three areas inside Syria: Damascus, Aleppo and al-Hasakah. It also provides assistance to Syrian refugees in neighboring countries.

This move from UNHCR underscores the difficulties in delivering aid in Syria. A number of humanitarians have already lost their lives in the 20-month-old conflict. While some donors have been generous in providing humanitarian funding for the crisis, there remains a lack of security measures for people delivering aid inside the country.

Apart from the U.N. agency, the International Committee of the Red Cross temporarily pulled out some foreign staff members in the Syrian capital of Damascus in July. The move was also due to rising insecurity in the city.

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About the author

  • Jenny Lei Ravelo

    Jenny Lei Ravelo is a Devex Senior Reporter based in Manila. She covers global health, with a particular focus on the World Health Organization, and other development and humanitarian aid trends in Asia Pacific. Prior to Devex, she wrote for ABS-CBN, one of the largest broadcasting networks in the Philippines, and was a copy editor for various international scientific journals. She received her journalism degree from the University of Santo Tomas.