More than 70 humanitarian organizations working on the ground in embattled Syria announced Thursday that they are withdrawing from the United Nations (UN) aid information-sharing program because, they say, the global organization’s relief efforts are being controlled and “manipulated” by the Syrian government.
In a stinging open letter (pdf), published exclusively by The Guardian, the 73 organizations announced their decision to withdraw from the Whole of Syria program due to concerns that UN agencies based in the Syrian capital of Damascus, as well as their partners, particularly the Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC), are operating and distributing aid “under the substantial influence” of the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Namely, the groups say, humanitarian programs are being implemented in government areas while besieged areas are being deprived of those same services.
“The Syrian government has interfered with the delivery of humanitarian assistance in multiple instances, including the blocking of aid to besieged areas, the removal of medical aid from inter-agency convoys, the disregard for needs-assessments and information coming from humanitarian actors in Syria, and the marginalization of other humanitarian actors in the critical planning phases of crisis response,” states the letter, which was sent to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
“This deliberate manipulation by the Syrian government and the complacency of the UN have played hand-in-hand,” it continues. “The people of Syria have suffered ever more as a result.”
“This deliberate manipulation by the Syrian government and the complacency of the UN have played hand-in-hand. The people of Syria have suffered ever more as a result.”
Indeed, the situation on the ground in Syria has grown increasingly dire. Though estimates vary, roughly half a million people have been killed as a result of the Syrian civil war. Meanwhile, 13.5 million Syrians are currently in need of humanitarian assistance while 14.8 million are refugees, half of which are children, according to aid group World Vision.
The letter points out two instances—the case of conjoined twins born in east Ghouta, who eventually perished waiting for treatment, and 65 people from Madaya who died of starvation—where cooperation and evacuations could have saved lives, but were not permitted.
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