Syria has agreed to grant visas to 47 UN staff members following months of haggling that have undermined UN relief efforts in the war-torn country, the UN aid chief said Thursday. Stephen O'Brien, the under-secretary general for humanitarian affairs, told the Security Council Thursday that the Syrian mission to the United Nations had informed him of the decision to allow the UN staff in the country.
"I have just this minute received news from the Syrian mission that the 47 pending visas for the United Nations are going to be granted," O'Brien said. He had asked the Syrian government to approve the visa requests during his visit to Damascus earlier this month. O'Brien also said Thursday Damascus was taking less time to approve deliveries of humanitarian supplies after repeated complaints from the United Nations over the lack of co-operation.
The visa decision stood out as a positive development in an otherwise grim humanitarian crisis in Syria. O'Brien said violence has escalated in Syria over the past month, with indiscriminate attacks carried out by all sides in the conflict, now in its fifth year. UN relief workers delivered food to only 12 percent of the 4.6 million Syrians living in hard-to-reach and besieged areas during the first half of 2015, he told the council.
Last month, he said, no food or other aid from the United Nations reached any of the besieged areas, where some 422,000 people live. "I am angry, because we as the international community are not allowed and able to do more to protect Syrians who more than ever need our unfaltering support," O'Brien told the 15-member council. The former British MP, who took over the key UN job in May, urged the Security Council to show leadership and to push for a political solution to end the war that has left over 240,000 dead.
Some 7.6 million people have been displaced within the country and four million have fled abroad. O'Brien said that over one million people have been driven from their homes this year alone. He said he will travel to Turkey and Jordan next month for a closer look at the refugee crisis in those countries.