“THE HUMANITARIAN ASPECT OF CRISIS IN SYRIA”
General Coordinator, the Union of Non-governmental Organizations of Islamic World (UNIW)
It has been twenty months since the beginning of demands for change of Assad regime in Syria. The arrest and torture of some children whose ages vary from 9 to 15 because they wrote “We demand freedom and democracy” on the walls of their school led to the burst of the rage which had been accumulating for 48 years. As a last wave of Arab Spring in Syria, the protests which began as civil and pacifist demands spread to the other cities and changed its tone because the regime responded harshly to these civil requests. Upon killings of tens of innocent people in every demonstration and increase of the victims the generals, colonels, lieutenant colonels and low rank officers who departed from the military to protect the demonstrations established the armed opposition against Syrian military. In parallel with increase of atrocities in the course of time the armed opposition turned to a people’s resistance movement. For current situation the regime has lost control in many parts of Syria in spite of its superior military and economic power and the foreign support that it takes overtly and covertly. The Assad regime which was getting harder the more it lost the control bombed the cities, killed more than 60 thousand people and arrested more than 200 thousand people.
Today in Syria which has 23 million population more than four million people, that is one fifth of population, are immigrant and refugee within the borders of Syria, 1.5 million Syrians face the danger of starvation, more than 100 thousand people are lost and the number of people who are affected by the crisis in Syria is increasing day by day. (When compared to Turkish population that means that 15 million people are left homeless and 3 million people face the danger of starvation. The number of Syrian refugees increased three times in last three months compared to previous twenty months.)
While experts publish political and strategic analyses on developments in Syria unfortunately the humanitarian tragedy and misery being experienced by people are overlooked to a large extent. Extremely less contribution has been made to the campaigns that several humanitarian aid organizations which I follow closely launched for Syria in proportion to the long-time experienced tragedy. Unless there is a remarkable increase in humanitarian aid activities for Syria especially in these days when the winter conditions will be felt harshly we can face more fearful consequences within the months ahead of us than the losses that the war caused.
THE CURRENT SITUATION IN REFUGEE CAMPS
The neighbouring countries to Syria were affected by the crisis in different aspects and dimensions. The countries which have borders with Syria like Turkey (877 km), Iraq (605 km), Jordan (375 km), Lebanon (375 km) and Israel (76 km) announced their position beforehand in the face of possible influx of refugees in the beginning of the crisis.
Israel which has been keeping the Golan Heights under its control since 1967 announced that if there will be an influx of refugees to its borders it will prevent them. Hence, according to the data of United Nations High Commissioner of Refugees (UNHCR) no Syrian refugee has reached to the Israeli borders so far. However, the Israeli officials said that the Israeli humanitarian organizations are in Jordan and Turkey for helping the refugees.
Regarding the current situation as of the date of November 2012, nearly 600 thousand Syrians had to take refuge in neighbouring countries so far. The refugees are now staying in official or civil camps or places which they found through their affiliations in Turkey, Lebanon, Iraq and Jordan. Because of pro-Assad political stance of Jordan and Lebanon the refugees in these countries have to survive under the minimum level of humanitarian conditions. Especially the Lebanese organizations on the ground which we contact draw the attention to the fact that the Lebanese government’s policy towards the refugees is obstructive, negative and hostile.
250 thousand refugees, 104 thousand of them are registered, are estimated to be in Jordan. 35% of the registered refugees (as of November, they are 41 thousand people) stay in Za’atri camp which was constructed in July 2012 in north of Jordan. The official and civil aid organizations of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Morocco, France and Italy are conducting the aid projects in the camp which is under the supervision of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNCHR) and administered by the Hashemite Aid and Relief Agency of Jordan. It seems that the coming months will be much difficult for the Syrian refugees in Jordan who are in a few smaller camps out of Za’atri and majority of whom are out of camps because of deterioration of the seasonal conditions and increase of the number day by day.
In Lebanon, there are nearly 200 thousand refugees and 100 thousand of them are registered. Very few of the refugees whose majority entered into the country from the north and tried to settle in Bekaa Valley and Trablous stay in Beirut and some of them stay in Sayda area in the south. It is very difficult for Syrian refugees to get shelter and aid in Lebanon which was directly affected by the events in Syria and became polarized. With increase in number of refugees and cooling in weather conditions the humanitarian crisis in Lebanon grows day by day. Especially the obstructive policy of the government in Lebanon is making the situation more difficult.
Though there are fewer refugees (55 thousand) compared to the other countries, in Iraq which opened its borders to the refugees in August 2012 and has the longest borders with Syria after Turkey, now, this number is increasing swiftly due to escalation in crisis. It is not wrong to argue that the pro-Assad position of central Iraqi government just like Jordan affects negatively the humanitarian aspect of the crisis. Because of that reason, the majority of the refugees (nearly 40 thousand) stay in areas under the administration of North Iraq (Dohuk, Erbil, and Suleymaniyah). Very few of them (6 thousand registered) took refuge in south area of Iraq. Until end of the year it is estimated that the number of the refugees in Iraq will approximate to 100 thousand.
Turkey opened its borders to the Syrian refugees since the beginning of the crisis and took a principled and successful position compared to the other countries. The number of the refugees in Turkey which first closed its borders at the end of August temporarily and then reopened them in a controlled way may rise in 200 thousand towards the end of the year. According to statement issued by Prime Ministry Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency (AFAD) there are 123.747 refugees in the camps in Turkey (13 tent cities, a temporal reception centre and a container city) as the date of 21 November. 175 thousand Syrians have entered to Turkey and 50 thousand have returned back so far. The number of the Syrians who live out of the camps is 50 thousand. Turkey completed its preparations for the winter conditions in its camps to a large extent. Non-governmental organizations’ aid activities by providing the Syrians sheltering opportunities out of the camps are continuing though they are not much sufficient.
IMMIGRANTS WITHIN SYRIA
The real great tragedy in humanitarian aspect of Syria crisis is being experienced within Syria, not in neighbouring countries. More than four million Syrians are in the position of immigrant and refugee in their country let alone what hundreds of thousands of Syrians who were arrested, killed or lost and not known their whereabouts have suffered. The cities which are bombarded continuously have been destroyed; 2.5 million houses and business places have been devastated. 75% of the hospitals are not in the position of giving service and those which are open are not adequate to meet the needs. Those who live in borderlines (including Turkey) under extremely unhealthy conditions need urgent and regular aid. Flour, fuel, blanket, clothing and medical equipment being in the first place, every kind of humanitarian aid materiel is needed today in Syria.
It is possible to transfer aid to the most of the areas which are under the control of Free Syrian Army (FSA) though there are not safe aid corridors. Yet, since any effective coordination has not been provided yet and a sound flow of information is not possible always, sufficient humanitarian aid can’t be taken to some regions. Regarding this issue, the official and civil organizations of related countries should take a step without losing any time.
HUMANITARIAN AID MOVE OF ORGANIZATION OF ISLAMIC COOPERATION (OIC)
The OIC which sent a common delegation together with the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN-OCHA) to overview the general humanitarian tragedy in Syria made some initiatives to persuade its member countries to get involved with the humanitarian aspect of the crisis though it was ineffective.
For this aim, the OIC made a new move and brought together more than forty organizations which were supporting Syrian refugees and sufferers within the country which were indicated above. This meeting which many humanitarian organization from around the world participated and also which I followed closely unfortunately did not yield the concrete coordination and cooperation except for repetition of what is already known.
It can be said that this organization of the OIC has been useful to realize once again how Islamic countries are ineffective for intervening in a humanitarian crisis in one of their member state and how such kind of a cooperation mechanism is needed to take necessary precautions for such events.
NGO ACTIVITIES AND ‘PERCEPTION MANAGEMENT’ IN SYRIA CRISIS
Unfortunately, the activities of non-governmental organizations regarding supporting the Syrian refugees and sufferers within Syria are not in the level that is expected because of the image and perception of Syria crisis in the public.
The chaotic nature of information about crisis and complicated political implications of the event since the beginning of Syria crisis overshadowed the great humanitarian tragedy being experienced. Under these circumstances, it can be said that we just sat back and watched the killings of tens of thousands of people under our nose.
A manager of an aid organization said that even the ‘enemy Syria’ perception in Turkish people which dates back to previous years may have a role in low level of donations for aid to Syria. Besides, the pro-Assad view of some political circles and parties and their anti-opposition behaviour undermined the sensitivities of people for aid to Syrian people. That the circles which launched campaigns for Rohingya and Gaza did not move a muscle for Syria where innocents were murdered in proportions incomparable to the former places was recorded as the most shameful insensitivity in recent history.
In Turkey, within last one year almost every humanitarian aid organization opened a bank account for aid to Syria. Except for the prominent ones such as Foundation of Humanitarian Aid (IHH), Doctors Worldwide (YYD) and Sadakatasi Association very few of them have been able transfer aid into Syria so far. The organizations such as IDDEF and Deniz Feneri also conducted humanitarian aid campaign to some areas through indirect channels. Many organizations are holding campaigns in an increasing manner for the Syrians in Turkey.
Besides to Turkey, humanitarian aid in different proportions from Libya, Algeria, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Egypt are transferred to within Syria.
A crucial point regarding this issue is registration and legality of the aid organizations which the Syrians have been establishing recently. The security of the aid channels is of vital importance as much as they are open for the safety of humanitarian aid activities. For that reason, the structures like Syria National Council or Syria National Coalition which are in the position of political representation should bring out a solution to the issues of coordination and registration so that the humanitarian aid is not given damage.
Various activities were conducted in Turkey and around the world whether it be about “perception management” or issues like humanitarian aid which were indicated above. The International Non-governmental Organizations of Islamic World (UNIW) whose headquarters in Istanbul also has organized a lot of meetings in order to inform the public and raise awareness on humanitarian aid since the beginning of the crisis. It tried to provide more efficient and healthy aid to be transferred to Syria by bringing together various humanitarian aid organizations. The UNIW will discuss in detail what have been done so far and what needs to be done for the future of Syria with an International Syria Conference that it is planning to organize at the end of January.
Where we stand now, the world and Turkey public opinion know the dimensions of the crisis and the real (f)actors of the events in Syria to a large extent. Nonetheless, whole the world is still watching silently one of the greatest tragedies of the century along with a lot of disinformation and artificial agendas. For that reason the aid accounts opened for Syria have not attracted yet the attention that they deserve.
Because of the approaching heavy winter conditions and unhealthy shelters, one of the greatest humanitarian tragedies of recent times may be experienced in Syria.
For that reason, a humanitarian aid campaign needs to be launched immediately all around the world, Turkey and Islamic world being in the first place.
The medical activities should be quickened urgently and field hospitals need to be established where they are needed in both refugee camps and Syria in the face of contagious illnesses that may be caused by cold and any other reasons.
The efforts should be intensified for opening of humanitarian aid corridor in some areas according to degree of crisis without losing time.
Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and the other umbrella organizations should take efficient and permanent initiatives about Syria.
Humanitarian aid organizations and human rights organizations should intensify their efforts for starting their observation, reporting and legal prosecution for Syrian prisons.
The Religious Affairs Directorate should launch aid campaign for Syria as it did before for similar disaster stricken areas. The Directorate should seriously deal with hundreds of destroyed mosques which Syrian regime targeted, turned some into military bases and torture centres including the historical Umayyad and Ottoman mosques.
Particularly non-governmental organizations should visit the region more frequently, get sound information directly from the ground instead of relying on the media sources and conduct appropriate campaigns.
The crisis in Syria and the humanitarian aspect of this crisis is a great and heavy trial for humanity, especially for the Muslims. So far, we have failed in this trial. We could not prevent the shedding of blood as well as we could not reach the innocent victims and sufferers.
Tomorrow may be too late!
Today, it is time to launch a campaign for Syria!