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Children in a Syrian Refugee Camp - the UN aid is delivered via the Bab al-Hawa crossing. Alamy Stock Photo
Security Council

Irish diplomats secure aid for 4.1 million displaced people despite threat of Russian UN veto

Ireland became a member of the UN Security Council in 2021 and has responsibility for the Syria file.

IRISH DIPLOMATS HAVE scored a major international victory in their efforts to secure aid for 4.1 million displaced people by the Syrian Civil War.

On Tuesday 5 July, the Security Council adopted a resolution extending the mandate for the UN’s cross border humanitarian operation between Turkey and North-West Syria. This operation provides vital support for the millions of displaced people in North-West Syria.

The Bab al-Hawa crossing at the Turkish/Syrian border is the only location where aid can cross and the resolution dealt with the rights of UN aid to enter Syria by road at that location. 

Russia has sided with the Assad regime in Syria which has been ravaged by a civil war since 2011. An estimated 4.1 million displaced people, who fled the fighting in Aleppo and other cities, would be cut off without aid if the resolution was not renewed. 

Ireland and Norway led negotiations on Resolution 2642, which extends the mandate of the operation for six months, until 10 January 2023.

Sources have revealed the high level and detailed efforts by Irish diplomats based in the UN Headquarters in New York and in Ireland’s embassies in France, the US, UK and in Turkey.

It is understood that at one stage on Friday, 8 July, it looked like the move would not succeed and it took a weekend of further negotiation and compromise to convince the Russians to withdraw their veto. 

The negotiations were led by a small team of approximately four Department of Foreign Affairs diplomats based in New York. They were then backed up by their colleagues in missions around the globe.

july-11-2021-bab-al-hawa-border-crossing-idlib-governorate-syria-bab-al-hawa-border-crossing-syria-11-july-2021-lorries-transporting-humanitarian-aid-enter-syria-through-the-bab-al-hawa-border Lorries transporting humanitarian aid enter Syria through the Bab Al-Hawa border crossing in the northwest of the country. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

Ireland is a temporary member of the UN Security Council while there are five permanent members of the New York-based body.

China, Russia, France, United Kingdom and United States are the main power brokers – each of these countries has a veto which can stop UN initiatives, or resolutions, in their tracks.  

Slow to engage

Sources told The Journal that the Russian delegation on the Security Council were slow to engage with the Irish move. They delayed responding to correspondence but once the Irish laid down their resolution wording the Russians began to interact and, as predicted, not in a positive manner. 

It was further complicated as the US and UK governments were calling for a 12 month extension to the cross border aid operations in the area while Russia were refusing to budge on six months.

Russia used its veto to block the process but this led to an unexpected turn of events which, rather than kill the Irish and Norwegian move, made it more likely. 

The use of the Russian veto was, according to one source familiar with the process, “a pressure release” and moved the US Government to be amenable to a six month extension.

As Russia was seen as the villain it allowed the US and other heavyweight permanent members of the UN Security Council to come off their strict 12 month renewal demand and accept the shorter period.   

The Irish team in New York took to the phones and after exhaustive late night negotiations they got all members to agree to vote in favour of the six month extension. 

While Russia was granted a concession on the six month period sources have said that Irish diplomats are hopeful that an agreement on an extension in December is very likely. 

It is understood that the strategy on that occasion will  ee Russia not using the veto then as there will be widespread evidence of winter conditions and the gathering humanitarian disaster in the area.


Ireland’s Nordic strategy has played a key part in the diplomatic work behind the scenes. The Nordic Strategy is a foreign policy plan to build an alliance with Scandinavian countries. 

The Irish delegation on the United Nations Security Council has responsibility, along with Norway, for the Syrian humanitarian file.

Coveney in Syria Simon Coveney at the Turkish/Syrian border with his Norwegian counterpart Anniken Huitfeldt. twitter twitter

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney visited the UN’s humanitarian operation at Bab al-Hawa for the second time last month, with Norwegian Foreign Minister Anniken Huitfeldt.

The visit signalled that the resolution was one of Ireland’s key UN Security Council initiatives. 

Speaking after the adoption of Resolution 2642, Coveney spoke about his visit and importance of the relationship with Norway.

“Ensuring the delivery of humanitarian assistance to people in Syria has been one of Ireland’s top priorities as an elected member of the UN Security Council.

“In conversations with UN officials and humanitarian workers, I heard again about the critical importance of this operation for over 4 million people in North West Syria, and saw first-hand the dedication and professionalism of the staff working there,” he said. 

He had strong praise for the Irish diplomats’ “relentless determination” in securing the success of the initiative. 

“Since joining the Security Council in January 2021, Ireland and Norway have led efforts to extend the mandate for the cross border operation.

“These have been incredibly challenging negotiations. Throughout, we have had one overarching focus and objective – to ensure that humanitarian aid can continue to reach all people in need in Syria.

“I’m pleased that, through relentless determination, we have been able to get this Resolution over the line, and that the vital work of the UN’s cross border operation can continue,” he said. 

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