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Syrian community provides aid where UN struggles to reach - new report

Press Release

Embargoed until 00:01 Friday 13th March, 2015 

Syrian community provides aid where UN struggles to reach - new report

As the Syria conflict enters its fifth year, the growth of 600-700 diaspora and local aid groups has ‘filled the gap’ left by the limited presence of struggling international aid agencies, providing both assistance and protection to Syrians says a new report launched today by UK-based think tank the Overseas Development Institute (ODI). 

With funds to the aid response totalling approximately US $4.8 billion since the conflict began, Syria is the biggest humanitarian crisis in the world. But these local groups struggle from a lack of money, and inflexible systems which make it hard for donors to fund them directly – despite having access to beleaguered populations. 

“Armed groups in Syria are often more willing to negotiate access with local and diaspora groups than international aid agencies as they share personal and tribal contacts and often come from the same communities,” said Eva Svoboda, researcher from the ODI’s Humanitarian Policy Group and author of the report ‘International and local/diaspora actors in the Syria response’.

Diaspora and local Syrian groups have been successful in delivering medical supplies, support for orphans, cash, food, water and sanitation and mental health programmes to those living in Syria. But they have experienced a lack of access to international funding, the tendency for international aid agencies to work with those who ‘look, speak and act like them’ and inflexible systems which mean aid isn’t deployed as effectively as possible. 

For example, the report says that “needs might have become more urgent elsewhere, but rather than giving the Syrian NGO the latitude to disburse assistance where needs are greatest, donors insist on sticking to the original plan”.

Publicity associating aid groups with terrorism activities has also dogged these organisations. Individual high-profile cases of jihadis who have travelled to Syria via Turkey, posing as humanitarians, have tainted the reputation of diaspora groups. In the UK, this has led some to rein in public fund-raising activities for fear of controversy.

Many of the groups from the UK started ‘around a kitchen table’ by diaspora communities, as a response to the horrors of Syria’s conflict. As the conflict now enters its 5th year, groups like Hand in Hand for Syria have seen those local sources of funding dry up, and are trying to access formal aid funds. It’s meant that they have had to rapidly pick up the professional aspects of international aid systems.

But the ODI report says that we could be seeing the emergence of a new aid model, and that it is necessary to find better ways for international aid agencies and local groups to work together.

“Although it may be difficult to trust new and ‘non-traditional’ humanitarian providers, it is important for international aid organisations and donors to take diaspora groups seriously and form equal partnerships with those that are genuinely seeking to provide aid to war-torn areas. It is not a question of whether international or diaspora and local organisations are better. Both have a role to play ideally working together to provide better services for those in need. Local organisations are the face of the new humanitarian aid model, one that is sorely needed to best serve those in need,” added Ms Svoboda.

The Syria conflict has resulted in 191,000 deaths, and three million people fleeing to neighbouring countries. There are 12.2 million people in need of humanitarian assistance in Syria. 

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For a copy of the report ‘International and local/diaspora actors in the Syria response’ or to interview the researcher Eva Svoboda please contact Clare Price on +44 7808 791 265 or on [email protected]