Veteran Norwegian diplomat Jan Egeland, a former UN special envoy who most recently has been heading the Norwegian Refugee Council, has been tapped to head the group coordinating aid to Syrians in the wake of a stated cease-fire on Thursday. He got to work right away, and told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) Friday that he thinks the cease-fire is “genuine.”
Egeland has long experience dealing with refugee issues and has visited many of the camps set up for Syrian refugees in Lebanon, Jordan and elsewhere in recent years. “I choose to believe that this (the cease-fire) is a breakthrough for the poor folks that we, the international community, have let down for years,” Egeland told NRK.
He called a meeting of the international support group for Syria late Friday and worked through the night with a string of requests to Syrian authorities and to all sides in the conflict that are fighting in various areas, about getting medical aid and supplies in to the most important areas during the weekend.
Egeland said the point of the support group meeting “is to get Russia, the US, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Iran, who have direct influence on the ground, to help us gain access for our convoys. Not just a few times, but on a permanent basis.”
Egeland was in Geneva Friday to follow up on the cease-fire declared during the night. The support group with US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergej Lavrov agreed to bring about a cease-fire that would make it possible to get badly needed aid to several hundred-thousand Syrians caught in areas that have been under attack.
The cease-fire is also aimed at discouraging new streams of refugees from trying to get out of Syria after new attacks on cities such as Aleppo. While many, including Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg, her foreign minister, Børge Brende, and even NATO’s Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg are skeptical over whether the cease-fire will hold, all hope it will.
Not least Egeland, who has warned for months if not years that the Syrians are in a desperate situation, with critical need for food and medicine. The civil war in Syria has created the world’s worst humanitarian crisis since World War II, and is largely responsible for the huge influx of asylum seekers streaming into Europe.
Egeland, who has worked as a UN Special Envoy to Colombia and a deputy secretary general at the UN, along with years of working for humanitarian organizations such as the Red Cross and Human Rights Watch, was asked by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to take on the job in Syria and will lead weekly meetings for the foreseeable future. Egeland said he thinks Russia, which has been bombing Aleppo and fighting IS, and Syrian authorities “have realized that we can’t continue in 2016 to let folks starve to death while armed men don’t let aid get through.”