Monday 20 November 2017

We must embrace desperate people as Europe fails those fleeing war

Retiring UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon. Photo: Mike Segar/Reuters
Retiring UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon. Photo: Mike Segar/Reuters
Liz O'Donnell

Liz O'Donnell

When it comes to the horror of war as revealed to us on a daily basis from Syria, have we reached a stage of mute helplessness? As retiring UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon said this week in his farewell speech to the UN General Assembly meeting in New York: "Just when you think it cannot get any worse, the bar of depravity sinks lower."

He was referring to the air strike on the UN/SARC humanitarian aid trucks at the village of Urum al-Kubra, west of Aleppo, when at least 20 people were killed. The convoy was delivering essential aid to the civilian population when it was attacked and caused the suspension of all aid conveys into Syria amid diplomatic fury over the breach of the Russia/UN-negotiated truce.

It would be difficult to disagree with the statement of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) that this was an "attack on humanity", while there is dispute about who is to blame. But set against the scale of human misery and suffering in war-torn Syria, language loses all meaning. A clearly exasperated US Secretary of State, John Kerry, was scathing of Russian bad faith and called for a ban on all Syrian and Russian flights in the key areas to restore some credibility to the shaky truce so that aid can be distributed.

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