On January 11, 2022, the United Nations extended its cross-border aid operation to northwest Syria through the Bab al-Hawa Crossing, which is not controlled by the Syrian Regime, for another 6 months. This crossing has served as an essential lifeline to over 3 million Syrians in Idlib Province, controlled by the Al-Qaeda-linked Hayat Tahrir al-Sham. 

Just a few weeks earlier, a humanitarian and economic lifeline for North and East Syria, the Semalka Crossing, was closed, cutting off the only connection NES has to the outside world for transporting aid and commodities. Two years earlier, the al-Yaroubiyah crossing, through which the United Nations sent aid to North and East Syria, was also closed due to political reasons. 

The Semalka Border Crossing between North and East Syria and The Kurdistan Region of Iraq

Despite Idlib being dominated by an internationally-designated terrorist organization, it has relied upon an open crossing outside of the Assad government’s control, allowing aid to enter and relieve the suffering of millions of Syrians. However, North and East Syria, where an estimated 5 million people live, and where 1.8 million people rely on humanitarian aid to survive, has steadily been cut off from the rest of the world during the past two years as its border crossings have become increasingly politicized. This has taken place at the same time as the COVID-19 pandemic has decimated the healthcare system and the Syrian Lira has plummeted in value. As a result, nearly 90 percent of the people of NES are under the poverty line. Basic necessities have greatly increased in price. Unemployment is an increasing issue.

These disastrous economic conditions risk creating another refugee crisis for the Middle East as North and East Syria’s population will find themselves without the ability to build decent lives in the region. Simultaneously, the crisis provides the ideal environment for terrorist groups such as ISIS to take advantage of. With many people unemployed and impoverished, ISIS can offer them money and work. There are  documented cases of captured ISIS members stating that their primary motivation for working for the organization was money. 

Al-Yaroubiyah Border Crossing from the North and East Syrian side

North and East Syria will need long-term economic solutions to truly address these issues. The 5 million people of the region need to have access to essential goods and services. This is where humanitarian groups and aid are absolutely essential. With the closures of border crossings such as Semalka and al-Yaroubiyah, the entire population is put at risk and the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria will have even greater difficulty in addressing their needs.