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Holding the keys: humanitarian access and local organisations

Research report

Written by Eva Svoboda, Veronique Barbelet, Irina Mosel

Research report

Humanitarian access has been significantly curtailed in Syria and Ukraine. Organisations grapple with bureaucratic impediments, restrictions on the type of aid programming permitted, widespread and sustained insecurity as well as counter-terrorism legislation. Both conflicts have now lasted for several years and neither seems close to a resolution. In Ukraine, parties to the conflict have repeatedly failed to implement ceasefire agreements; in Syria, the conflict is now so fragmented and complex that a comprehensive solution seems further away than ever.

This report explores whether local actors in Ukraine and Syria obtain access, and if they do, how they negotiate such access to conduct relief and protection operations. It also reflects more broadly on how local knowledge on access can be better harnessed to serve those in need. 

It finds that humanitarian organisations broadly face similar access challenges regardless of whether they are international or local. The difference lies in how local organisations address these challenges, and their flexibility and proximity to people in need. But while being local certainly adds value, it is not in itself necessarily sufficient to ensure access. Having the right networks is essential, be they kinship or tribal ties, a shared ethnic background or a common past in activist work, or political affiliation.

Eva Svoboda, Veronique Barbelet and Irina Mosel