'Freeze plan' gains ground as UN fears for refugees this winter

| Print |

12 November 2014 – The UN Special Envoy for Syria has expressed guarded optimism on a peace plan centred on the city of Aleppo, as UN faces the coming winter with serious funding shortages.

The proposal to 'freeze' the Syrian conflict in the besieged city of Aleppo is gaining traction, Staffan de Mistura, the United Nations Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Syria has confirmed. If successful, he said, it could form the basis of a wide-ranging peace proposal.

Speaking at a press briefing in the Syrian capital, Damascus, yesterday Staffan de Mistura told journalists that the past three days had seen 'many useful and constructive meetings' between him and Syrian Government officials, including the Foreign Minister, Deputy Foreign Minister and President Bashar al-Assad, in which the UN’s action plan for resolving the three and a half year civil war via a 'freezing' of hostilities had been widely discussed.

Syria refugees

The Special Envoy pointed out that to provide a strong foundation for a lasting peace, all Syrians need 'a concrete example' of the freeze’s implementation which, he hoped, would be applied to the war-ravaged city of Aleppo – "a symbol of culture, of multi-culture and of religious and historical heritage in Syria."

"I believe that the proposal of the UN regarding one freeze, which I say is different and is a special case for Aleppo, is a concrete and realistic one", he added, stating that he would now advance the proposal to the other stakeholders in the conflict.

Long cold winter for refugees

At the same time an ongoing funding shortage coupled with a sharp growth in recent internal displacements is placing increasing pressure on United Nations efforts to assist millions of refugees across Iraq and Syria as they prepare for the onset of a long and cold winter, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) has warned.


"The shortfall affects our winter preparedness programmes, although we have already invested $154 million on winter aid for Syrian and Iraqi refugees and internally displaced, and means that UNHCR is having to make some very tough choices over who to prioritize", the agency’s spokesperson, Melissa Fleming, told the press yesterday at a briefing in Geneva.

Ms. Fleming explained that because of a current $58.4 million shortfall, UNHCR is focusing on a specific set of criteria to determine which refugees would immediately benefit from the agency’s resources. Factors such as the elevation of refugee settlements, the presence of children or households headed by women, family health concerns, new arrivals, available family resources, and shelter conditions would all be taken into consideration.

"For those we're unable to prioritize", Ms. Fleming continued, "the conditions could nonetheless be very tough."

Over the past several months, Iraq has been convulsed by increasing instability amid an ongoing offensive by the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and its affiliates, unleashing wave after wave of internally displaced persons (IDPs) and refugees.

Since January 2014, an estimated 1.9 million people have been displaced across Iraq as they fled the violence and persecution of ISIL’s recent offensives.