ANKARA (Reuters) - The United Nations would offer humanitarian assistance for proposed “safe zones” inside Syria even if they were created without a Security Council resolution, the U.N.’s top humanitarian official Valerie Amos said on Monday.
An estimated 3 million people have fled Syria since 2011, when an uprising began against President Bashar al-Assad. About half of them are in neighbouring Turkey, which wants the zones to be set up in Syria close to the its border where civilians could be protected from the civil war.
“If there happened to be areas of Syria that were established as protection or safe areas... we would get to those areas to give people help,” Amos, the Under Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator told Reuters in an interview.
So far Turkey’s call has received at best a lukewarm response. The United States has said it is not a priority while Iran and the Syrian government have warned against the move, saying it would break international law.
Russia, which holds the power of veto on the U.N. Security Council, is also thought to oppose to the idea.
Amos said any secure zone would require a force on the ground ensuring the protection of civilians, and ideally this should be done with the backing of a U.N. resolution. “The political differences we’ve seen on the Security Council make it less likely that this will be passed,” she said, while adding: “I hope that I’m wrong.”
“Of course some countries may decide this is important enough for them to go it alone. Whichever one of those things happens, the important thing is that if there is protection area or a safe zone, is that people are kept safe,” she said.
The U.N. already operates in parts of Syria where the government is not present, and also negotiates with rebel groups to reach some of the estimated 11 million people trapped inside the country and in need of help.
Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said last week he favoured a U.N.-led effort to establish a no-fly zone over northern Syria, seen as a crucial first step towards establishing safe zones. However, he also said that an “international coalition” could decide to act if members of the Security Council vetoed the plans.
Turkish officials say they have spent over $4 billion helping refugees, but there are growing fears of social and economic upheaval if they are unable to go home.
The fate of the Syrian border town of Kobani, besieged by Islamic State fighters for more than a month, has put growing pressure on Ankara to take a more active role in tackling the militants on its frontiers.
Turkish officials have repeatedly said that a comprehensive strategy to pacify Syria is the only way to tackle Islamic State and other groups like it which have taken advantage of the chaos to seize territory.
Amos warned that U.S.-led approach of bombing Islamic State did not offer a solution to Syria’s complex problems.
“Of course I’m frustrated,” she said. “Without a solution we’re just going to see these numbers (of refugees) spiralling even more out of control, in a year where we’re seeing so many crises around the world ... where we are running out of resources, out of money, out of people who are able to do the work that’s needed.”
editing by David Stamp