Editorial: UN security council unanimously backs to extend Syrian refugee aid

January 16 , 2023

The United Nations Security Council, comprised of five permanent members—Russia, China, France, the UK and US—is the institution’s most powerful body entrusted with endorsing resolutions that are binding under international law.

Japan joined the council as one of the ten rotating non-permanent members from this month and serves as its president.

The first item on the council’s 2023 agenda was whether to extend or end the UN assistance program for Syrian refugees, which was originally slated to expire on January 10. Russia had been indicating that it would oppose the extension, dangling the possibility of exercising its veto, to which every permanent member is entitled. Yet, one day before the expiration date, Russia, along with the other 14 council members, backed the resolution to continue the aid program until July 10.

Syria has been locked in a bloody civil war since 2001, with the government forces of President Bashar al-Assad battling anti-government rebels that have taken more than 300,000 civilian lives to date. Millions of Syrians are now forced to eke out a fragile existence in refugee camps, deprived of sufficient quantities of food and medicine, a humanitarian tragedy of a magnitude on par with the mass displacement of Ukrainians fleeing their war-torn homeland.

Since the Assad regime denied international aid to refugees living in camps located in rebel-controlled areas, a security council resolution adopted in July 2014 enabled UN relief agencies to work with countries neighboring Syria to supply these refugees with the basic necessities. As the principal backer of President Assad, Russia initially contended that the international relief effort should continue under the regime’s auspices.

The Japanese government should be cited for successfully persuading all parties, particularly the Russians, to agree on extending the aid program for an additional six months. Had the extension not been endorsed, as many as 4.4 million Syrian refugees could have faced an existential crisis. The hope is that similar success can be had in getting Russia to agree to a ceasefire in Ukraine.