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Syrian Civil Society Faces Cutbacks as Aid Groups Await Results of Resolution 2165

Local councils are relying heavily on the renewal of a U.N. resolution which will allow the entry of aid without approval from the Assad government, Enab Baladi writes
Syrian Civil Society Faces Cutbacks as Aid Groups Await Results of Resolution 2165

Millions of Syrians are worriedly monitoring the fate of United Nations Resolution 2165, which calls for the entry of humanitarian aid into Syrian territory — especially those areas witnessing military conflict — without the approval of the Syrian regime.

The resolution will be voted upon by the members of the U.N. Security Council at the start of the coming year, amid fears that Russia will use its veto power against the motion, thereby beginning a new chapter of controls on Syrians.

Aid of various types — humanitarian, health and medical — offered by NGOs to Syrian civilians has helped lighten the burden of the siege policy which the Syrian regime has imposed on many regions with the aim of forcing the opposition to surrender.

In July 2014, the Security Council issued Resolution 2165 which stipulated that humanitarian agencies under the authority of the United Nations and its implementing partners are permitted to use routes across conflict lines and use the border crossings at Bab al-Salam, Bab al-Hawa (Turkey), Al-Yarubiyah (Iraq) and Al-Ramtha (Jordan) in addition to those already in use, “to ensure that assistance, including medical and surgical supplies, reached people in need throughout Syria through the most direct routes”

This is in addition to allowing all Syrian parties involved in the conflict the ability to deliver humanitarian aid to people throughout Syria directly and without hindrance.

The U.N. resolution was renewed more than once, most recently in January 2017, and ends on Jan. 10 next year, according to the director of the Syrian Legal Development Program, Ibrahim Albi. He pointed to fears around it not being renewed since the Syrian regime was trying strongly to restrict the entry of humanitarian aid.

The Syrian regime is trying to block the resolution through its Russian ally using the veto, and has strongly pushed that aid enters any area in Syria, such as opposition-controlled Idleb, through the Syrian Red Crescent under its authority, subsequently restoring its legitimacy before the international community.

The fears that the resolution will not be renewed in the corridors of the Security Council have prompted some international organizations active inside Syria to reduce their support and notify those working with them that they will stop their work at the start of next year.

In Daraa, most organizations have begun to reduce the number of contracts which they had signed annually with local councils and with employees, distributors and warehouses, and have not renewed a number of them permanently, according to a former field official for aid distribution in Quneitra, Shadi al-Masalha. The official told Enab Baladi that this was accompanied by a major reduction in the amount of aid and organizations stopping work.

Meanwhile, a member of the Daraa provincial council, Sheikh Faysal Abazid, told Enab Baladi that the International Relief and Development organization (IRD), which is one of the biggest NGOs providing aid in the southern regions over the past years, announced it was stopping its work, while other NGOs have not yet announced that they are stopping.

The field official Masalha said that reports about stopping aid foretell disastrous results because of the major reliance on aid provided by NGOs, which means that a cutoff will threaten a large number of displaced people and residents of the area, and will increase the number of poor, which will lead to the spread of phenomena such as theft.

The NGOs in the Eastern Ghouta area are not in a better situation than Daraa, as a number of organizations have begun to withdraw, according to the medical director of the Al-Ameen for Humanitarian Support group, Dr. Rami Abu al-Wafa, who told Enab Baladi that about four months ago a number of international NGOs had begun to withdraw support for medical centers in the Ghouta, while support for medical centers, hospitals and primary health centers had also halted, as Medicins Sans Frontieres, which was one of the main groups working in the Ghouta and had a positive role in raising the work level, closed 16 centers, in addition to reports about other centers stopping work.

Alongside this, NGOs in northern Syria on the Turkish border are awaiting the U.N. resolution, with Abu al-Wafa saying many groups had offered projects with the World Food Program, including Al-Ameen, and there had been an acceptance and agreement at the beginning. But the NGO said frankly that it would stop entering northern Syria if “cross-border” aid was stopped by the Security Council.

The director of the UOSSM group of medical and aid NGOs, Zaidoun al-Zoubi, said that some NGOs had headed from the north to the south as the result of the policy of the Turkish government, such as the International Rescue Committee, in addition to the intervention of some others, such as International Medical Corps, being reduced. These are the biggest support institutions and their intervention has become limited in all Syria. He added that the Turkish government was one of the strongest backers of the NGOs, and largely turned a blind eye to their work, but that recently it had begun to crack down on organizations, investigating financial transfers, or demanding work permits for all workers in the NGO, especially in the city of Gaziantep on the border with Syria, where NGOs are highly active. This has led to many Syrian workers suffering. He added that Turkey’s aim was to regulate the activities of these NGOs on its territory.

Zouabi said that there were a number of factors regarding the reasons for the withdrawal and the decrease of support. First, the reduced territory which the Syrian civil society is present and active in, as it had included large parts of Aleppo, Hama and Idleb and the Damascus countryside, with these areas being reduced by Syrian regime advances.

The second factor is tied to the control of the Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham, which is accused of belonging to the Al-Qaeda organization, over Idleb in northern Syria, which complicates the manner and capability of intervention in the province.

The third factor relates to the change in the political scene and its complications in northern and northeastern Syria, and the Turkish policy which has affected the presence of some groups in Gaziantep. This is in addition to the fourth factor, which is related to “cross-border” aid delivery and the fear of many that the Security Council will not pass Resolution 2165.

Alongside these reasons, the medical director of Al-Ameen, Rami Abu al-Wafa, said that the reduction of aid was linked to policy, citing that the MSF group did not officially work in accordance with the cross-border system, as it worked from Lebanon, which is not included in the resolution, and so Resolution 2165 had no relation to the reduction of the group’s aid, adding that the issue resulted from a political decision.

This article was translated and edited by The Syrian Observer. Responsibility for the information and views set out in this article lies entirely with the author.

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