A ceasefire brokered between the top UN humanitarian official in Syria and the governor of the city of Homs has so far allowed for the evacuation of some 600 civilians from a besieged, rebel held area of the city. But the operation did not go smoothly. The UN/Red Crescent convoy came under mortar fire, shortly after the operation began. This video from the BBC offers a harrowing documentation of the risks that these humanitarians undertook to rescue people from Homs.
Despite this setback, the evacuation underway in Homs is probably the greatest progress on the humanitarian front in many, many months. A humanitarian ceasefire in Homs was supposed to be agreed upon during the last round of peace talks in Geneva, but it did not come to fruition until this weekend. This is a step forward, if haltingly. Here is what the UN’s top humanitarian official had to say about it.
UN and Red Crescent workers told me that many of the people who left Old Homs were traumatized and weak. They also said that they witnessed terrible conditions at the field hospital in the Old City, where the equipment is basic, there are no medicines and people are in urgent need of medical attention. All wounded and sick – whether they are civilian or combatant – have the right to medical assistance under International Humanitarian and Human Rights laws. Most of those evacuated went to Al Waer, but a number of men and their families are still being processed. UN protection officers continue to monitor their safety and wellbeing.
Humanitarian pauses are vital to allowing aid to be delivered and people to leave in communities which have been blockaded for months but it is very important that they are not a one-off event. As a political solution is sought to end this crisis, I hope that those negotiating in Geneva agree to allow the sustained delivery of aid to the 250,000 people in besieged communities in Syria and all those who are in desperate need across Syria. I also hope that they will respect humanitarian pauses, and abide by their obligations under International Humanitarian Law. The people of Syria want peace, security and stability. I hope the parties hear their voice.
The Homs evacuation is messy and imperfect. Even though the parties have agreed to extend it for three more days, their ability to follow through on this pledge is uncertain. Still, the events of the last few days also show a proof of concept that a humanitarian pause can be brokered.
This counts as progress for Syria. The international community ought to seize this opportunity and see if humanitarian access can be extended to other long suffering communities.