UN Coordinator El-Mostafa Benlamlih and the “symmetry” with al-Assad

The UN Resident Coordinator and Humanitarian Coordinator in Syria, El-Mostafa Benlamlih (edited by Enab Baladi)

The UN Resident Coordinator and Humanitarian Coordinator in Syria, El-Mostafa Benlamlih (edited by Enab Baladi)


Enab Baladi – Muhammed Fansa

The United Nations Resident Coordinator and Humanitarian Coordinator in Syria, El-Mostafa Benlamlih, did not pass his first international test since his appointment four months ago when he did not apply for the deployment of United Nations disaster and coordination teams after the earthquake disaster in Syria.

What Benlamlih did was in line with the policy of the Syrian regime, which did not declare the affected provinces “stricken” before the fifth day of the earthquake.

The United Nations Disaster Assessment and Coordination (UNDAC) teams are part of the Sudden International Emergency Response System designed to assist the UN and governments of countries affected by disasters, especially earthquakes, during the first phase of a sudden-onset emergency.

The UNDAC team helps coordinate international relief received at the national level or at the site of an emergency.

The response system enables the United Nations to deploy response teams within 12 to 48 hours anywhere in the world, free of charge for the affected country.

The system is activated at the request of the United Nations Resident Coordinator (acting in the case of Syria, Benlamlih), the Humanitarian Coordinator, or the affected government.

Benlamlih did not activate this system, nor did he visit the regions of northwestern Syria to see the damages, and contented himself with statements and interviews in which he ignored the region.

This is in line with the rhetoric of the Syrian regime, when the statement of the Syrian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, released the day after the earthquake, ignored mentioning Idlib when it listed the stricken areas, despite the great damage incurred in it.

On the fifth day of the earthquake, February 10, the regime mentioned the opposition-held Idlib region for the first time during the disaster when it included it by announcing the areas affected by the earthquake, in a move indicating that it is one of the terms of an undeclared agreement between the regime and the United Nations.

Ignoring 4.6 million persons

Benlamlih’s statements, which were reported by the UN News website the day after the earthquake on February 7 to highlight the plight of those affected by the earthquake, had ignored the scale of the disaster and its repercussions in northwestern Syria when he called for urgent aid to be provided to the victims and those affected by the devastating earthquake disaster in Syria.

Benlamlih said, “There are not yet complete statistics of damages in the areas affected by the earthquake,” adding, “We are still in the framework of assessing the repercussions of the earthquake on the northern region, including Aleppo, Homs, Hama, Latakia, and Tartus, and we have teams there trying to assess needs, but the situation is very difficult.”

In response to the journalist’s direct question about other areas severely damaged by the earthquake, Benlamlih replied that the damages are in Aleppo, Hama, Latakia, Tartus, and everything in between, in addition to the difficulty of accessing what he described as “remote areas.”

Regarding the United Nations’ strategy to respond to the current crisis during the coming weeks, the UN official explained that the strategy is “coordination, avoiding duplication of efforts, and responding to all basic needs, including education, health, food, and non-food materials.”

Benlamlih stressed that reaching the affected people, beneficiaries, and needy people is based on direct contact with the Syrian government, coordination with it, and work to restore what was damaged through the early recovery process, which the Syrian regime and behind it Russia always demand.

At least 4.6 million people are based in northwestern Syria, according to UN statistics, as the earthquake’s damage to them was more than double in comparison to the regime’s areas of influence, according to the statistics of human and material losses.

In an interview with the Qatari al-Jazeera channel on February 12, Benlamlih said that it is “unfair” to say that the UN has not fulfilled its duty in northwestern Syria, based on the lack of security guarantees to enter those areas, except for the approval of the regime, which is present up to the dividing line with the opposition.

He also pointed out that no aid convoys were allowed to enter the contact line areas inside Syria.

The United Nations brought the first quake-related aid trucks into northwestern Syria across the border from Turkey on the fifth day of the earthquake, on February 10, a day after a limited and previously scheduled convoy entered the region.

The UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, Martin Griffiths, acknowledged on his official Twitter account that the people of northwestern Syria were failed by the United Nations.

“We have so far failed the people in north-west Syria. They rightly feel abandoned. Looking for international help that hasn’t arrived.”

“Sanctions Effect” narrative

Since the first days of the earthquake, the Syrian regime demanded the removal of the sanctions imposed on it on the pretext that it prevents humanitarian aid from reaching those affected, despite the arrival of relief planes from about 25 countries.

The regime’s propaganda was supported and promoted by many officials, including ministers and entities affiliated with it or close to it, such as the Syrian Red Crescent, activists, and influencers on social media to form a state of official political investment and link sanctions to the issue of emergency humanitarian response.

These pretexts were met with the US and European rejection, which shows that international sanctions do not conflict with humanitarian aid.

The United Nations Resident Coordinator in Syria, Benlamlih, appeared two days after the earthquake disaster in an interview with the official Syrian news agency (SANA), in which he emphasized that the imposed sanctions “harm humanitarian work in Syria” and that the humanitarian issue should not be politicized.

He added that the goal of the UN organizations is “to deliver a message about the suffering of the Syrians as a result of the sanctions imposed on their country, and their harm to humanitarian work,” claiming that sanctions prevented the arrival of millions of dollars in material aid to those affected by the earthquake.

Benlamlih claimed that the regime’s government “provided all facilities to deliver aid to all the affected places,” while at that time, no aid convoy had been sent to northwestern Syria, and the regime had not announced at that time that Idlib was a disaster area.

The regime also did not allow the aid coming from the areas of the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES) to enter some areas and neighborhoods of Kurdish-majority in the city of Aleppo until the seventh day of the earthquake, as the regime stipulated obtaining 70% of that convoy.

Benlamlih was not the only UN employee promoting the narrative of the harm of sanctions to humanitarian aid, as independent UN human rights experts supported this narrative through a statement they issued on February 10.

The experts called for the lifting of all economic and financial restrictions resulting from the “unilateral sanctions imposed on Syria. Among the signatories is Alena Douhan, UN Special Rapporteur on the negative impact of unilateral coercive measures on the enjoyment of human rights.

The German Foreign Ministry previously questioned the methodology in which Douhan reached similar conclusions.

Who is El-Mostafa Benlamlih?

Benlamlih was born in Morocco, in the city of Meknes, and graduated from the Faculty of Economics in Rabat in 1975. He then studied and graduated in 1980 from France, where he obtained a Ph.D. in development economics and international development.

He worked as an assistant university professor for two years at Mohammed bin Abdullah University in Morocco, and from 1997 until 2008, he worked as a resident coordinator for the United Nations Development Program in Côte d’Ivoire, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia.

Then, in 2008, he moved to Indonesia to work as Resident Coordinator and Humanitarian Coordinator at the United Nations until 2013.

Benlamlih worked in the same position in 2015 and 2016, respectively, in Sudan and Egypt, and from 2017 until 2019, he held the position of Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General of the United Nations in Haiti.

Before his current position as the UN Resident Coordinator and Humanitarian Coordinator for Syria, in November 2022, Benlamlih had been working independently as a development and management consultant since 2019.



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