Aid and Intimidation

The Syrian regime makes it difficult for relief organizations to deliver aid to those who need it most

In Syria, when a regime official calls the local Red Crescent chapter and asks for food rations, local aid workers can not deny this request even if it is taken from the people’s share. They have no choice but to yield to orders under the threat of a “security report” that would cost them their freedom and perhaps even their lives.

The names of all aid beneficiaries are similarly handed over to security services in the face of threats and intimidation. In many cases, regime officials pressure families benefiting from aid into giving information about rebels and activists as a precondition for allowing aid deliveries to continue. This is especially true for those displaced from rebel areas to regime-controlled districts.

Frequently, relief supplies are sold at cheap prices to people who are loyal to the regime. In some cases, the contents of Red Crescent vehicles are confiscated by people collaborating with regime barracks, later to be found for sale at the same barracks.

This is in addition to the corruption and favoritism that rule the relief distribution process. Indeed, a sizeable portion of those who receive aid are not needy: their names made it to the lists because they are related to some official or due to their security and military ties.

Those in charge of relief operations say they are buying the good will of security services in order to allow a portion of aid to make it to those actually in need. Yet, do the international organizations offering these funds take these considerations into account? When faced with the millions of dollars spent on relief operations in Syria, are these organizations aware of how much is being cashed in by the regime and its loyalists without any form of control?

One should take into account the rebel-held areas, which humanitarian organizations cannot access due to the Syrian regime’s ban, in order to recognize the percentage of aid that is actually delivered to those in need through these aid organizations located in regime-controlled areas.

When discussing the dire humanitarian conditions of the Syrian people in the hinterland, it is moot for governments and international organizations to remind us of aid figures illustrating what they are doing to help while dealing with a regime accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity, as well as refusing to engage with parties that represent the opposition under the pretext of neutrality.

Most  Western governments insist on earmarking relief funds for Syrians inside Syria exclusively through these organizations. They are perfectly aware of these drawbacks. One way or another, this means that these organizations are playing an important part in indirectly recognizing the legitimacy of the Assad regime and failing to recognize the legitimacy of the opposition and its representation in rebel-held areas. This removes a huge burden from the regime’s shoulders in the regions under its control, and it places an even bigger burden instead on the opposition in the areas outside the regime’s control. The result is the weakening of the revolution and the strengthening of the regime, even on the relief front.

Limiting aid to aid in kind and acknowledging these organizations’ total inability to enter the besieged and opposition-held areas should force them to reconsider their mechanisms of action since the vast majority of those in need for aid is concentrated outside regime areas.

After over two and a half years of conflict in Syria, even humanitarian issues are being dealt with from the standpoint of internal politics, regional, and international rivalries, regardless of the humanitarian considerations that should govern the actions of these organizations and those funding them.