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Letter: Time for Europeans to drop aid to Syrians

As members of European parliaments whose air forces are flying over Syria, we believe it is now time for our leaders to authorise urgent aid airdrops to the country’s trapped and starving civilians. The denial of food as a weapon of war in Syria should have ended two months ago. Much-needed food and medicine was expected to reach desperate communities within days of a partial ceasefire and an agreement that brutal starvation sieges would be lifted. Yet two months on, many areas are still on the brink of starvation. Most have yet to see a single aid truck. While all sides have used siege tactics, the government of Bashar al-Assad is responsible for denying access to food, water and medical care to over 90% of besieged areas. In Daraya, a small town of 8,000 people on the outskirts of Damascus, the situation is desperate. Assad’s snipers encircle the town, preventing people or food from entering or leaving. The result is starvation. According to the UN, some have resorted to eating grass to survive and many residents are surviving on boiled water with spices. Malnutrition is rife, meaning many mothers cannot breastfeed and no baby milk is available. Madaya, which became world news in January after many civilians starved to death, is still only occasionally accessible. Despite repeated pictures of skeletal children, aid access and medical evacuations have been denied. These ongoing starvation sieges are a deep scar on the conscience of Europe. We know from the numbers of refugees fleeing to safety and the increasing threat from Isis what happens when we ignore the plight of civilians in Syria. Lifting the sieges in Syria with sustained access and freedom of movement for civilians should always remain the priority for the international community. But the consistent lack of progress in this area cannot be a reason to continue sitting on our hands. This month the UN carried out its first successful airdrop into the city of Deir Ezzor, proving that there are options we could take to alleviate the worst of the hunger in Syria. If we can drop food to Deir Ezzor, we can drop it to places like Daraya and all besieged areas in Syria. Let’s get this food and medicine to Syria’s civilians today, before more children die cruel, needless deaths. Our countries – the UK, France, Netherlands and Germany – are all flying in Syrian airspace as part of the anti-Isis effort. If the UN lacks the ability to deliver aid, we have the capacity and presence to act. And high-altitude airdrops would keep our brave pilots safe. Airdropping aid is only ever a last resort, but there are dependable partners on the ground in these besieged areas ready to coordinate the distribution of aid. Today, Russia controls the airspace over Syria and, as a co-chair of the international humanitarian task force that has demanded humanitarian access, should guarantee safe passage for these aid flights. It is now time for our governments to prioritise getting aid to starving Syrians. We can no longer wait for permission from the Assad regime that may never come. (UK) Jo Cox MP, Stephen Doughty MP, Lindsay Northover, Stephen Twigg MP, Nicholas Soames MP, Jason McCartney MP, Charles Tannock MEP, Greg Mulholland MP, Tom Brake MP, Dr Lisa Cameron MP, Alyn Smith MEP (Germany) Roderich Kiesewetter MP, Franziska Brantner MP, Marieluise Beck MP (Netherlands) Marietje Schaake MEP, Sjoerd Sjoerdsma MP (France) Christophe Premat MP, Karima Delli MEP, José Bové MEP, Michèle Rivasi MEP, Eva Joly MEP, Pascal Durand MEP, Jean-Michel Couve MP