Source: The New York Times – by Rick Gladstone (73 Syrian Aid Groups Suspend Cooperation with U.N.)
Seventy-three Syrian aid groups suspended their cooperation with the United Nations on Thursday, accusing the world body of complacency in the face of what they called manipulation by the government to deny help to people in opposition-held areas.
In a letter to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the United Nations agency that oversees aid to civilians affected by the Syria conflict, the groups said “the Syrian government in Damascus has a significant and substantial influence on the performance of U.N. agencies based in Damascus” and their partners, including the Syrian Arab Red Crescent.
The signers of the letter, including some groups based outside Syria that seek to provide help to people in opposition-controlled territory, said they would no longer participate in an information-sharing system used by the United Nations in aid distribution.
They said the government of
President Bashar al-Assad had exploited the system to steer aid to areas he regards as politically acceptable.
“This deliberate manipulation by the Syrian government and the complacency of the U.N. have played hand-in-hand,” the letter stated. “The people of Syria have suffered ever more as a result.”
The signers would reconsider their suspension of cooperation, the letter said, if the information-sharing system for aid distribution were revised so “there is no political influence in any aspect of it.”
But they also said, “We have little hope that the U.N.-coordinated humanitarian response might operate independently of the political priorities of the Syrian government.”
It was not immediately clear how the suspension of cooperation might affect aid delivery in Syria, which has been hampered by severe government restrictions since the conflict began more than five years ago.
Signers of the letter included the Syrian American Medical Society and the Syrian Civil Defense, which operate in areas held by insurgents opposed to Mr. Assad. The letter said the signers collectively provide aid to more than seven million Syrians, including about a million refugees in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey.
Dr. Ahmad Tarakji, president of the Syrian American Medical Society, said in telephone interview that the letter reflected broad frustration over repeated instances in which help for sick and dying civilians in besieged parts of Syria had been blocked by the government.
He also said that under the United Nations information-sharing system, some aid intended for civilians winds up in Syrian military bases. “We think the mechanism is a failure,” he said.
Amanda Pitt, a spokeswoman for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, confirmed that her office had received the letter. In an emailed statement that did not criticize the aid groups for their decision, the office said, “We will continue to engage with them, and with all humanitarian partners, in order to improve our collective efforts and reach as many people in need as possible in Syria.”
There was no immediate comment about the letter from Mr. Assad’s government.
United Nations officials in Syria have often complained that Mr. Assad’s government had impeded their aid delivery and repeatedly implored it to allow unobstructed access.
But as in other countries where the United Nations provides services, it must operate with the permission of the host government.