Wednesday, 15 June 2016

UN attacked for giving control of aid 'to Assad regime' in Syria

A convoy delivers aid to besieged Damascus suburb Daraya

 'The United Nations has lost all impartiality in Syria's civil war, effectively allowing Bashar al-Assad’s regime to control billions of dollars of aid, according to a new investigation.

 After interviewing dozens of current and former staff, researchers accused the UN of allowing Mr Assad a veto over the delivery of humanitarian supplies, thereby “enabling” the regime’s use of “sieges as a weapon of war”.

 Almost one million people are living in 52 blockaded areas of Syria, of which 49 are under siege by Mr Assad’s forces. The UN is failing the most desperate by acquiescing in the regime’s policy of denying food and medicine to the 49 rebel-held areas, according to The Syria Campaign, the advocacy group which completed the investigation.

 Last year, almost 90 per cent of UN requests for aid deliveries were either ignored or denied by the regime. One UN official said that these were already “censored at the agency level”, meaning that the number of requests was kept low so as not to “annoy” the authorities. The result is that most aid is distributed solely to areas under regime control. This has unintentionally bolstered Mr Assad, allowing him to spend less of his own money on aid and more on military operations, as well as allowing him to pose as a reliable provider of help. Mr Assad’s starvation tactic has forced hundreds of thousands of people out of rebel-held enclaves and into areas under the regime’s control.

 The report, released on Wednesday, outlines how the UN’s fear of having their employees’ visas revoked or being asked to leave Damascus has led to “far-reaching and unnecessary” capitulations to Mr Assad. This has included downplaying his regime’s role in enforcing blockades, revising down the number of people living in these besieged areas, and taking rebel-held towns such as Madaya off the list of besieged areas at a time when residents were starving to death.

 Baby milk formula in regime-held Damascus costs 500 Syrian pounds (£1.50), while in the besieged suburb of Daraya it goes for nearly 30,000 Syrian pounds (£96). Residents who cannot afford these inflated prices have resorted to killing stray animals and eating bark and leaves.

 Bissan Fakih from The Syria Campaign, a non-governmental group that advocates for an end to the sieges, said: “A UN with the backbone to stand for its principles would help get aid to hundreds of thousands of Syrian civilians under siege, many of them only a few minutes’ drive from where the UN is based in Damascus."

 Palestinian refugee camps, including Yarmouk in Damascus, are among the areas besieged by the regime.

 Roger Hearn, a former head of the UN Relief and Works Agency in Damascus – the branch of the UN charged with helping Palestinian refugees – said: “There has been a systematic failure in the UN-led response. Rather than basing its response on need, it has developed into a billion dollar response programme that is largely controlled by the regime and its proxies.” '

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