Despite protests by more than 70 relief groups, the United Nations plans to continue its aid collaboration with Assad’s government in Syria.
In an open letter to the UN, the relief groups express “little hope that the UN-coordinated humanitarian response might operate independently of the political priorities of the Syrian government.” As a result, they plan to suspend their participation in the Whole of Syria information-sharing program, by which the UN gains access to information about developments in parts of Syria outside of the Assad regime’s control.
The 73 NGO’s signing the letter cite concerns that the Assad regime has interfered with the delivery of aid to besieged areas, removing medical aid from convoys and marginalizing other humanitarian actors during the planning phases of crisis response.
Just last week, the Syrian government stalled aid convoys headed to Aleppo from Turkey after a ceasefire was declared last Monday. The government insists that all aid to rebel-controlled areas must not enter without coordination from the government and the UN. The government is particularly suspicious of any aid coming from the Turkish border, as Turkey has backed rebel groups fighting Assad.
In late August, UN relief efforts in Syria came under fire when The Guardian ran a story exposing the extent of UN support for aid organizations tied to the Assad regime, including $13 million in support for the government’s farming and agriculture efforts and $8.5 million to Syria Trust, the charity of Assad’s wife Asma. Much UN aid in Syria has gone to organizations tied to Assad and under US and EU sanctions.
In response to the criticism, UN officials have expressed their intention to continue working with the Assad regime in order to provide aid to those in need, and have pointed out that the UN is not obligated to follow US and EU sanctions, but only those imposed by the UN itself. As one spokesman put it, the UN will “continue to engage with [the government] and all humanitarian partners in order to improve our collective efforts and reach as many people as we can in Syria.”