The UN's Role in the Sieges in Syria

How to Help the Trapped

Syrian Army soldiers monitor residents who said they have received permission from the Syrian government to leave the besieged town as they wait with their belongings after an aid convoy entered Madaya, Syria, January 14, 2016. Omar Sanadiki / Reuters

Besieging civilians—cutting them off from food, supplies, and fuel—is a war crime. It is also a strategy that several parties to the conflict in Syria use, chief among them the Syrian government. Estimates of the number of Syrians currently living under siege vary widely, according to who is doing the reporting. For example, last December, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Damascus communicated back to the UN secretary-general’s office that 393,700 civilians were besieged. For the same period, Siege Watch estimated that the real figure was more than one million.

The disparity seems related to OCHA’s desire to stay in Damascus, which requires that it stay in the good graces of the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. That pandering to the Assad regime can also be seen in changes OCHA made to its 2016 Humanitarian Response Plan after a review by

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