The issue of distributing relief aid in Afrin has raised considerable controversy since the Free Syrian Army took control of the area. Being torn between inaccurate statistics, on the one hand, and accusations against the authorities for applying unfair measures of aid distribution, on the other hand, the region’s inhabitants, mostly displaced, are seeking a decent situation that preserves their dignity and relatively help them deal with harsh life conditions.
Hussein, who asked Enab Baladi not to mention his full name, was displaced from his hometown, Deir ez-Zor, and currently lives in the city of Afrin. Hussein told Enab Baladi that he has not received a relief ration from the NGOs operating in the area to date, even though there is an aid distribution centre near his house.
He said that he did not get any aid package due to the unfair measures of distribution employed by the officials in charge of the task. The same conclusion was made also by Fatima, a local of Afrin, who stated that she did not receive her share of material support while many other people, enjoying better life conditions, got relief rations several times.
|According to the latest statistics published by the Response Coordinators on July 9, 28.461 families are living in Afrin since last March, including 21.352 local families distributed as the following: 20.000 families in Afrin District, 115 families in Sharran sub-district, 317 families in Rajo sub-district, and 250 families in Mabatli sub-district, as well as 20 families in Bubul sub-district, and 650 families in Shaykh al-Hadid sub-district while the districts of Bafiloun and Jindires are still under the process of surveying the number of locals.
6863 families were displaced from Damascus and its countryside, and they were distributed as it follows: 5800 families in the Afrin District, 280 families in Rajo sub-district, 420 families in the Mabatli sub-district, and 83 families in Bulbul sub-district, in addition to 30 families in the area of Bafiloun, and 250 families in Jindires. Likewise, the districts of Sharran and Shaykh al-Hadid are still under the process of counting the number of displaced Syrians coming to these areas from Rif Dimashq.
246 families live currently in Afrin after being forced to leave the countryside of Homs. These families are settled in the area as the following: 79 families in Sharran sub-district, 77 families in Rajo sub-district, and 30 families in Mabatli sub-district, as well as 60 families in Shaykh al-Hadid sub-district while the statistics were not finalized yet in the districts of Afrin, Bulbul, Bafiloun, and Jindires.
How are relief ratios distributed?
Enab Baladi contacted a number of relief organizations’ officials in Afrin. They indicated that the aid provided to the area was distributed according to the number of families living in there, and that an approximate figure of about 25,000 displaced families was depicted in several governorates in addition to the local families.
Mazen Osman (Abu Khadija), the representative of the eastern region in the relief office of the interim local council in Afrin, said that the distribution process is determined by the system of quotas between governorates. However, this procedure does not achieve justice between families in need.
He told Enab Baladi: “It is fair that everyone gets a relief ration, but at the present moment there are a certain number of quotas, and each governorate takes its share. Thus, some people manage to receive aid, and others fail due to the limited amounts of relief commodities. Besides, in some cases, we face problems with registered families who complain about the insignificance of the relief products handed to them.”
The relief official explained that some of the families located in many governorates do not receive aid due to the fact that they are not registered in the donation charts while some other families were more organized, such as the displaced inhabitants of Eastern Ghouta, who managed to get their aid rations in full.
Osman pointed out to another point which is one reason that has led to the emergence of unfair distribution practices. Such factor is the distribution of aid rations in the streets, which helps ineligible individuals to get undeserved commodities.
He added that, during the last few days, relief professionals, operating in needy areas, made a progress as far as the issue of aid distribution is concerned, and that “with the start of the new year, we will reach a good degree of organization that will help us boost the efficiency of this important humanitarian work.”
The statistics issued by the Response Coordinators regarding the population of Afrin, after the intervention of the Free Syrian Army factions in March, 2018, are vague and do not indicate the specific number of displaced persons in each region. For instance, there are many Syrians from the east registered in the aid lists of Eastern Ghouta. Similarly, the same incident has reoccurred in the rest of the regions from which the displaced citizens are coming.
This has led to considerable chaos in conducting the population census in each region, which has been reflected in the distribution of relief aid. Thus, the displaced families in some areas have gained access to larger shares than their counterparts in the whole region.
The Sharq relief office is the representative of Deir ez-Zor population living in Afrin at the moment. As such, this relief office was established after the Free Syrian Army took charge of the area, and as a result of the important number of Deir ez-Zor locals who fled the battles in the east.
Omar al-Jaber, director of Sharq relief office, stated that “the residents of the eastern region have been subjected to the worst forms of injustice until they reached the north, but the situation has not changed and they remained in dreadful conditions due to the absence of the necessary support. This shortage of aid rations is caused by the fact that these displaced citizens were not represented in the region, which has led to their exclusion from the relief allocations directed to Afrin.”
Al-Jaber also told Enab Baladi that “all our registrants have received relief aid at least once, in addition to ensuring the monthly orphan grants, which is provided to 50 children, as well as food, winter clothes, and health assistance.”
According to al-Jaber, the relief office surveys the number of displaced families from the eastern region on a monthly basis. Thus, the information about 800 families was documented in all details, in addition to sick people, widows, and orphans and all the lists of names were given to donors.
In addition to the displaced citizens of the eastern region, Head of Aleppo’s relief office, Ahmed Muawiya, said that the locals of Aleppo who have moved to Afrin also suffer from “injustice regarding the distribution of relief rations” due to the lack of complete and accurate statistics in the area, despite the fact that the displaced Aleppo population has been located in Afrin a long time ago.
Likewise, the same situation applies to the displaced locals of al-Hasakah and Deir ez-Zor who live in Afrin. Abu al-Hareth, the spokesman on behalf of displaced population of al-Hasakah, asserted that his counterparts are registered in a sporadic manner. Some of them are listed with the displaced population of Ghouta, Deir ez-Zor or with the displaced populations of other governorates. Thus, the reason behind such situation is the absence of an office that can provide statistics about the locals of al-Hasakah and present them appropriately to the relief organizations…. “We have started to organize ourselves and conduct accurate statistics for the population of al-Hasakah based in the city of Afrin.”
Moves to form a general committee
As for the issue of the distribution of humanitarian assistance, the committees of displaced Syrians in all governorates have held a meeting last week in Afrin and agreed to establish a unified general committee. The new body will represent the displaced populations coming from all the regions in order to ameliorate and reinforce fair measures of aid distribution.
The representatives of the governorates of Damascus, Aleppo, Rif Dimashq, and Homs, as well as Hama, Deir ez-Zor and al-Hasakah attended this meeting. All the parties decided to form a committee consisting of five or six members and a chairman who will supervise the file and reach an understanding with the local council of Afrin.
Abu Ratib (asked to be nicknamed this way), director of the Rif Dimashq office for displaced Syrians, , stated that “the establishment of a unified committee representing the displaced populations living in the city of Afrin has become an urgent priority.”
He also told Enab Baladi that the lack of organization and accurate statistics is reflected negatively on displaced people. As such, the NGOs and donors are not able to get precise lists of statistical data. Consequently, these organizations avoid working in Afrin or distribute aid at its discretion, which results in giving relief rations to undeserving parties. Such scenarios have led NGOs and donors to engage in unfair practices towards the governorates that do not have statistics about its populations.
“We need a single representative to speak on our behalf and a unified and accurate database that includes all the displaced people, so we can encourage organizations to work with us, and we can exert pressure on the parties in charge to manage the area effectively. By so doing, we will be able to operate in a proper way,” the relief official added.
Factions’ obstruction and interference
After taking control of Afrin and the return of the local population along with the influx of displaced people, it was clearly observed that the work of humanitarian organizations, working in the field of relief, was limited. Thus, the distribution of relief rations, which are already insufficient, was undertaken exclusively by the relief office of the Syrian National Coalition‘s local council (SNC).
Mohamed Hassan, Head of the local council’s relief office, indicated that “since the local council and its relief office started operating, we have assumed the responsibility to execute relief projects in an effective manner so that we can cover the life necessities of needy persons in the city. All the local and displaced families were counted, and we have issued aid registers, in addition to appointing a delegate in every neighbourhood. These delegates are responsible for monitoring the distribution process and registering new comers.”
“The reason why only a small number of relief organizations operate in Afrin is that the Turkish authorities have not issued enough authorizations to allow other NGO’s to work in the region, in addition to the lack of experience in this field, bureaucracy, and the absence of the local council’s organizational measures at the beginning. However, such deficiencies are being currently redeemed by creating a legal office attached to the local council in order to settle the issue of granting operation permits for NGOs interested in working in the area,” Hassan highlighted.
He also referred to other obstacles that stalled the work of the Syrian Coalition’s relief office, namely the clashes with armed factions controlling the city. Thus, the relief official asserted that “the relief office was closed more than once because of the unfair aid distribution process according to allegations made by the armed factions, and only until recently we have been able to get our hand on the office’s headquarters and some of the facilities that serve our mission, such as the automatic oven.”
Hassan added that “the local council’s relief office is currently looking for a real sponsor to support its operations. The Turkish side is providing part of the office’s exigencies. Nonetheless, we are in need of more workers, more vehicles, and more logistical equipment.”