One of the main issues durning the debates about Syria is the failure of the humanitarian aid world to react to the needs of civilians and the repeated “lack of access, particularly to “opposition-controlled areas”. This is terrible as some years back there was definitely the access for NGOs willing to be in Syria – but, and that is a shame, at that time there was little willingness by NGOs to flex their sophisticated security frameworks in order to enter.
There were opened doors waiting for us, if one could have accepted some risks related to ongoing combat operations. Syrians waited in vain to see us come in, deploy normal humanitarian programmes, to be together.
They somehow managed to live under fear of bombardement but we – as international community – couldn’t allow ourselves to take such risk. We would send a mission – usually for half a day and only to completely safe areas. Syrians waited in vain and those that went to Turkey saw the fancy hotels we lived in, the poshy offices we rented, while they wouldn’t see us on their soil. There were no risks for us on their part – on the contrary, they wanted to assist us come in, they wanted to take care of us. But we did not do it. And now we are blaming them for turning against us? Those are the people who see their children slaughtered in war. Those are the people who hoped so much that we assisted them. How come we blame them, not us, for the results of such approach? Shame on us. Oh, and Syrians – you’re right. We are wrong.
There are few notable exceptions – known well to all organizations that remained away from where they needed to show their solidarity. A friend of mine who was speaking with a number of NGOs asking them for reasons not to go in – she gave examples of those few organizations that were able to establish proper presence inside. Can you imagine that these organizations (all international humanitarian organizations working for decades) were denoted not as “humanitarian actors” but as “activist organizations”? Would you call Medicines Sans Frontieres or Medicins Du Monde, for instance, as “political activists” – just for the reason of being inside assisting the wounded? Shame on us.
By Michał Przedlacki