6 December 2016 - As a humanitarian catastrophe worsens by the day in East Aleppo with tens of thousands of people at risk of starvation in what the UN has described as a "kill zone", eight CEOs of leading humanitarian organisations have written to Theresa May to urge her to work with European partners and the G7 to take bold steps to protect Syria's civilians.
The signatories, including Save the Children, Oxfam, CARE International, Christian Aid and Doctors of the World, said as a first step the Prime Minister should take immediate action to secure international agreement for air bridges to the million people living in besieged areas in Syria, including in East Aleppo, and to ensure that monitors are in place to guarantee any evacuation of civilians complies with international law.
Air bridges entail helicopters carrying aid workers landing in besieged areas to deliver and distribute relief supplies. This is the first time many of the NGOs have called for air bridges in Syria, highlighting how desperate the situation has become. The letter comes as Russia vetoed a UN Security Council resolution yesterday on aid access in Syria for the sixth time, and as US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov meet today to discuss the evacuation of armed groups and civilians from Aleppo.
Kevin Watkins, CEO of Save the Children said: “There are still tens of thousands of children trapped in East Aleppo living through unimaginable horror and hardship. The world has utterly failed to protect them during months of siege and bombardment, but as the conflict intensifies and with the last UN food rations in the city exhausted, we could see hundreds more children killed before we can reach them through conventional routes. Air bridges are a last resort, and we have now reached that point in Aleppo. We can and must do this now.”
The letter reminds the Prime Minister that the UK government has repeatedly stated that airdrops would be considered as a last resort if it is not possible to get trucks in – and that no food has been delivered to eastern Aleppo for over seven months and food supplies ran out on 10 November. The NGOs stress that delivery of aid via air is not a sustainable solution, but it would bring immediate and life-saving aid to families and send a clear signal that the starvation of civilians as a tactic of war is unacceptable.
Laurie Lee, CEO of CARE International said: “Almost 70 years ago, CARE packages airlifted into West Berlin by British and American forces became a symbol of hope for Berliners facing a blockade. With worsening blockages in the Security Council, another air bridge can ensure that CARE packages from the world can once again be a sign of hope for besieged populations. We need to show the people of Eastern Aleppo that they are not alone and will not be forgotten. We welcome the cross-party support of UK politicians on this issue. Now is the time to put it into action as this proud outward looking nation did once before.”
The letter adds to the growing chorus of voices calling for urgent action to address the atrocities in Syria, joining over 200 MPs who are urging the UK to authorise airdrops of aid to besieged area. Almost 15,000 people have also signed a UK Parliament petition and a statement from 13 faith leaders has called for the urgent delivery of humanitarian aid to Aleppo.
Eight organisations working on the ground in Syria have signed the letter to the PM. The full list of CEOs is:
Ajmal Ramzan, CEO, Syria Relief
Kevin Watkins, CEO, Save the Children UK
Laurie Lee, CEO, CARE International UK
Leigh Daynes, Executive Director, Doctors of the World
Loretta Minghella, CEO, Christian Aid
Nigel Harris, CEO, Tearfund
Othman Moqbel, CEO, Human Appeal
Mark Goldring, Chief Executive, Oxfam GB
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Notes to Editors:
1. Air bridges, as opposed to air drops, entail landing helicopters with aid workers to deliver relief supplies to besieged areas. Air drops involve dropping aid from helicopters or planes which is impractical in a densely populated urban area like East Aleppo and could do more harm than good. Air bridges have been used previously, most notably in the Berlin Airlift in the 1940s.
2. Christian Aid works in some of the world's poorest communities in around 40 countries at any one time. We act where there is great need, regardless of religion, helping people to live a full life, free from poverty. We provide urgent, practical and effective assistance in tackling the root causes of poverty as well as its effects.
3. Christian Aid’s core belief is that the world can and must be changed so that poverty is ended: this is what we stand for. Everything we do is about ending poverty and injustice: swiftly, effectively, sustainably. Our strategy document Partnership for Change explains how we set about this task.
4. Christian Aid is a member of ACT Alliance, a global coalition of more than 130 churches and church-related organisations that work together in humanitarian assistance, advocacy and development.
5. Follow Christian Aid's newswire on Twitter: http://twitter.com/caid_newswire
6. For more information about the work of Christian Aid, visit http://www.christianaid.org.uk