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Directors control assistance to northern Syria camps

A rainstorm hits northern Syria camps in Kafr Buni in the northern countryside of Idlib - 19 June 2020 (Enab Baladi / Youssef Ghribi)

A rainstorm hits northern Syria camps in Kafr Buni in the northern countryside of Idlib - 19 June 2020 (Enab Baladi / Youssef Ghribi)

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Idlib – Youssef Ghribi

They travel distances that were not necessarily long, but they were sufficient to make them live in a completely different world. So what followed displacement was not the same as before, for hundreds of thousands of people in Idlib – Youssef Ghribi; their cry for help became an obligation to secure shelter, food, and clothes, but to whom should they appeal? And who delivers the message of the poor and needy?

One tent after another…  more camps and responsibilities 

Abdul Salam al-Youssef was forced to leave the town of al-Tah in the southern countryside of Idlib, as a result of the military campaigns of the Syrian regime and its ally Russia. The fierce campaign caused the displacement of more than a million and forty thousand civilians from the countryside of Idlib, Hama, and Aleppo towards northern regions in Syria, and he faced the problem of overcrowding and high cost, which prevented him from being able to rent a house for his family.

The response of international and local organizations to the waves of displacement was not sufficient, as the internally displaced persons (IDPs) were forced to sleep in the open air before formal camps were set.

Then, more than 366 informal camps were built in the area, which joined the 911 formal camps that were previously set, according to the “Response Coordination Group.”

Al-Youssef told Enab Baladi that given the lack of organizational support and the suffering of the displaced people, he thought of establishing a camp. First of all, he secured a site to build al-Tah displacement camp in cooperation with his friends and acquaintances who lent him support to ensure tents as well. Then, along with the residents of the town formed the camp in the northern countryside of Idlib. 

Al-Youssef did not request permission from anyone to assume the camp’s management, but he was forced to register the camp with the “displacement administration” of the “Salvation Government (SG)” and with the local council in an attempt to obtain support.

Up to the moment, the camp follows four bodies, which are:  local councils, “the displacement administration,” “the district administration,” and “the department of the camps’ affairs in Idlib.”

Al-Youssef highlighted that the responsible authorities register the displacement camps after they are established, not before, due to the absence of the authority that provides support for the construction of the camps. As those authorities are waiting to fully equip the camp, starting with the provision of land, tents, and families. Then, the camp is to follow “the district administration” or the local council. 

Who appoints camp directors? What are their tasks?

The camp establishment process is “chaotic,” and the directors’ appointment mechanism is “ill-considered,” said al-Youssef, who is also a former member of the local council in al-Tah town. He stressed that not all camp directors have the necessary qualifications effectively to provide the best for the families who live in the camps.

According to al-Youssef, the camp director is responsible for communicating with organizations, coordinating with media outlets to present the services and humanitarian situation, and send reports to the concerned authorities. However, some camp directors do not know how to organize camps or deal with organizations, or with the administrative boundaries. Moreover, some are illiterate, which affects the residential community because it will be stuck in “a random state.” 

The director of the displacement camp in the town of Kafr Zita, Ahmad al-Rajab, was appointed by the camp residents and the local council in Kafr Zita, he told Enab Baladi

Al-Rajab said that the camp director has no role in collecting aid from organizations. However, the assistance arrives through the “displacement administration,” which is responsible for the provision of health and social services to the residents of the camp.

Al-Rajab believes that his tasks are limited to communicate and coordinate with “the displacement administration,” receive non-governmental organizations, provide information and statistics about families and their requirements, and what the camp needs in terms of assistance. However, in al-Rajab’s camp, which has been established for more than one year, no service project or food baskets project has been implemented yet. 

Speaking to Enab Baladi, the director of the Directorate of Camps Affairs, Ahmad al-Hassan, said that the competence of the camp director in carrying out his tasks is a condition for his appointment, in addition to the residents’ approval, the director’s scientific competence, morals, and good reputation.  

It is noted that if the camp director is not well qualified with carrying out his tasks, this will affect the camp adversely, this will lead to the lack of relief projects in the camp granted by non-profit organizations, due to his inability to control arrivals and departures, statistics, in addition to the possibility of disputes with camp residents.

A transparent director plays a crucial role in aid

Camp directors play an essential role in communicating with NGOs, and donors, and highlighting the humanitarian needs and requirements of IDPs, according to the Deputy Executive Director of  Insan Charity, Khaled al-Fajr. 

Al-Fajr pointed out that the methods of communication used may reflect “negatively or positively” on the organizations’ response.

Some camp directors communicate with NGOs and donors, “using the language of complaints, admonition, and sometimes accusation, claiming that they have not obtained any relief assistance, reflecting an image that does not match the truth,” al-Fajr said. On the other hand, others turn the research for assistance to “takeover competition.” Some directors are “transparent and professional when searching and asking for the provision of aid.”

 Al-Fajr added that requests come in various forms: from camp directors, the sectors of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), and partners interested in some camps. NGOs often select to assist the camp according to the assessment report of the most vulnerable and the most recently displaced.

When the organization decides to support a camp, it requires the camp director to sign a pledge that includes several points, including not benefiting from the material provided by any other organization and coordinating the departure or arrival of any new resident in the camp. 

The organization verifies the data it obtains in several ways, such as a field visit, needs assessment, coordination with the local council, inquiries about the camp’s condition, and when violations occur, such as the camp receiving similar relief from another organization, the support may stop.

The organization has various tools to verify data, such as a field visit, needs assessment processes, coordination with the local council, inquiries about the camp’s condition.

When violations occur, such as receiving similar assistance from another organization, the support may stop. For his part, the emergency relief coordinator at Violet Organization, Ahmad Qutaish, emphasized that the camp directors play an important role in obtaining support through providing correct statistics, and constant communication with local councils or NGOs.

If the organization finds that there is an error in the statistics provided by the camp directors, this does not lead to cutting off the aid completely. Still, the error shall be avoided according to the terms of the project, Qutaish told Enab Baladi.

More than 2.8 million people are in need of relief aid in northwestern Syria, including 2.7 million internally displaced people, according to OCHA data. With the increasing economic pressures and the lack of aid, more than 204,000 people have returned to their towns after the recent displacement to face the escalating military operations, which have devastated 72 percent of their homes in the areas adjacent to the M4 international trade highway, compared with 27 percent of the homes destroyed throughout northwestern Syria.

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