Decades of manipulation under Assad 'must be addressed' in new approach for aid to Syria: report

Decades of manipulation under Assad 'must be addressed' in new approach for aid to Syria: report
A new 73-page report from the Center for Strategic and International Studies published Monday has urged donors to rethink their approach to aid in Syria in order to curb decades of manipulation by Assad's regime.
3 min read
14 February, 2022
The report said a 'fundamental shift' was needed in order to 'secure the gains made with aid response and mitigate the negative consequences' [source: Getty]

International donors “must fundamentally shift their approach” to aid in Syria to counter decades of manipulation by Bashar al-Assad’s regime, said a report published on Monday. 

The 73-page document,  Rescuing Aid in Syria, outlined how the regime - accused of multiple war crimes and crimes against humanity - used aid to reward allies and punish adversaries. 

Published by the Washington thinktank the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), the report stressed that a new international strategy was needed to ensure aid reached the most in need while maintaining relentless diplomatic efforts. 

“Aid cannot bring Syria to a just or acceptable political solution,” the report said.

“However, a more holistic approach to aid and diplomacy can reverse damaging patterns and address donors’ long-term interests.”

The report examined on-the-ground operational challenges and humanitarian needs across three parts of Syria: Areas controlled by the Syrian Democratic Forces, opposition-controlled areas and government-controlled areas. 

It highlighted how problems arose from a lack of coordination between different NGOs, particularly in the northeastern areas. It also explained how sanctions and counterterrorism measures, such as against Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), can sometimes “hamstring the provision of assistance”. 

The think tank called for “collective diplomacy” to ensure Western donor governments use their leverage, which could quickly dissipate given Syria’s re-engagement with other global powers, “to implement reforms”. 

"A thoughtful ‘carrot and stick’ approach with the goal of providing genuine access to people in need is not just achievable but necessary given what is at stake," the report said. 

Syria remains one of the world’s most complex humanitarian emergencies, according to the UN. 

Around 13.4 million people last year required humanitarian assistance, a 21 percent increase from the previous year. 

Western governments have contributed nearly $2.5 billion a year over the last ten years in humanitarian aid, according to the CSIS. 

The report concluded that changes must be made to the strategic organisation of aid to ensure "investment[s] pay off for the Syrian people, but time is running out". 

The British government, which currently operates 20 active projects in Syria, has given over £284 million in overseas assistance to just one project. 

“The UK is one of the largest global aid donors and to date has spent over £3.7 billion in response to the Syrian crisis," the UK Foreign Office said in a statement to The New Arab.

"Our aid provides life-saving humanitarian support to millions of Syrians. Robust processes are in place to ensure aid reaches those who need it most."

This article was updated on 14 February at 17:57 GMT to include a response from the UK's Foreign Office.