This interview is made with Mohannad Talas, NGO Forum Advocacy Coordinator and sheds light on the importance of cross-border resolution within the Northwest Syria humanitarian efforts.

We are coming to an end of the six month period set for Resolution 2504. NGO Forum and particularly as the Advocacy Coordinator you lead efforts towards the renewal of the resolution. Could you please kindly elaborate on what has been done since January 2020 in this regard? (The question aims to present a timeline and continuity of the efforts)

The 6-month mandate period for the UNSC Resolution 2504 meant that it was clear from the beginning how much limitations would be placed on the humanitarian response in Northwest Syria and how humanitarian preparedness, funding and programing would be impacted, which led to renewal advocacy efforts starting as early as January 2020. Within the advocacy working group and in collaboration with other fora and NGO coalitions, NGO Forum starting advocacy efforts with donors and UN agencies to ensure that messaging is coordinated and efforts are aligned towards a unified stance on the paramount importance of the resolution and its renewal. Early efforts concentrated on developing unified talking points with all parties and meeting with different stakeholders from UN agencies and donors in the Gaziantep hub, the region and internationally who are able to influence the advocacy efforts. Furthermore, development of relevant papers and advocacy products commenced early for all to be ready by June 2020 to provide a much-needed push towards a favorable UN Security Council decision.

There are various stakeholders your advocacy efforts target at. Can you please identify each one, and how their position have been in your interaction with them? (please focus on UN agencies, donors, security council…etc)

Resolution 2504 renewal efforts have targeted a wide range of stakeholders with different interests and influence when it comes to the resolution and its renewal. Early efforts beyond the forming of advocacy messaging focused on liaising UN OCHA and other agencies at the Gaziantep hub, regional and HQ levels with many meetings and discussions taking place to ensure that the UN will push for the renewal and that messaging on the resolution impact are aligned. Also, early advocacy exchanges targeted donors with prime donors (US, UK and EU) initially contacted to deliver agreed talking points and ensure their support to the renewal process and acknowledgement of the rising humanitarian needs in NWS. Other European donors including Denmark, Sweden and Belgium showed interest in the advocacy efforts and NGO Forum reached out to further advocate for the renewal with them.

Advocacy efforts of the renewal of 2504 consisted regular coordination and collaboration with different NGO fora and coalitions which meant that the Ngo Forum represented NWS NGOs in different platforms to provide advocacy messages on behalf of members and NGOs operating in NWS that included multiple donor briefings and a separate briefing to the US based Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) to align messages around NWS and prepare for the CSIS briefing on the renewal for international diplomats.

Ultimately, advocacy efforts aim to influence the decision of the Security Council and urge them to vote for a renewal and to that end, NGO Forum started plans to directly reach and address Security council ambassadors and penholder first through US based platform and later on directly through briefings and dedicated letter.

What are some recent efforts you undertake for the renewal of the resolution? Can you please explain your advocacy points? (particulary E10 briefing and work towards Brussels conference)

During the last month or so, advocacy effort for the renewal of 2504 focused on providing a final push towards a renewal decision and mainly targeted the UN Security council. On June 03 the NGO Forum briefed the E10 Security Council on the humanitarian situation on in NWS and the critical need for the renewal of the resolution and the continuation of cross-border access into NWS. On June 05, The NGO Forum participated in a briefing to the Belgian government as one of the penholders and the E10 members in attendance of the ministers of Foreign Affairs and Development to further discuss the rising humanitarian needs in NWS and the criticality of the renewal of 2504.

Also, The NGO Forum has prepared letters addressing the UNSC E10 and P5 ambassadors individually to call for a 12-month renewal for the resolution to continue the cross-border mechanism. Another letter to the ERC/Under Secretary General has been prepared to advocate and support the renewal of the resolution for full 12 months.

COVID-19 outbreak for sure impacted humanitarian work and challenged it further. How do you assess the importance of resolution, in light of the pandemic?

The criticality of the cross-border mechanism is more important than ever, especially amid concerns of a COVID-19 outbreak. WHO and OCHA are the principal providers of COVID-19 testing kits and protective and preventative equipment (PPE). Additionally, the two agencies lead on preparedness planning, access negotiation and the provision of technical support. It is of paramount importance for those living in Northwest Syria that the UN continues to provide services and supplies and ensures the preparedness of the humanitarian community to respond in the event an outbreak.