Four countries override Russia’s veto to bring aid into northern Syria
Enab Baladi – Abdul Karim al-Thalji
As the Russian veto continues to be used to prevent the extension of humanitarian aid by the United Nations to nearly five million people living in the northwestern regions of Syria, alternative efforts continue to secure aid for the people’s livelihoods.
Under pressure from humanitarian actors concerned with providing humanitarian aid to the region came the Aid Fund for Northern Syria (AFNS) as an alternative solution to the cross-border entry mechanism for aid in light of Russian obstinacy.
Insaf (Equity) fund, or the newly adopted abbreviation AFNS which is a Humanitarian multi-donor pooled fund established in October 2022 to meet priority needs in the north of Syria with a primary focus on the northwest of the country, according to the fund’s website.
“The fund works with aid actors including communities, civil society organizations, the cluster coordination mechanism, and the United Nations to understand where needs and opportunities are greatest and where it can add most value,” AFNS says.
Nine Syrian organizations participated in the AFNS mechanism, and the Violet charitable organization was elected to represent Syrian organizations on the board of directors, according to the organization’s director, Dr. Qutaiba Sayed Issa.
Sayed Issa told Enab Baladi that four countries worked to establish the AFNS, namely the United States, Britain, France, and Germany, led by the British “Adam Smith” company, with a steering committee of Syrian organizations and some international organizations.
The idea of the fund was first proposed at the beginning of 2022, and it began work publicly before the vote on extending the UN cross-border aid mechanism on January 10, 2023, and an amount estimated at about $70 million was allocated to it by the aforementioned countries, according to Sayed Issa.
A portion of the funding will be distributed to some Syrian organizations to implement projects that include distributing cash in camps, in addition to other projects in the field of education and school operations.
How AFNS works
A member of the Board of Directors of the AFNS Fund, Dr. Zahid al-Masri, who is also the director of Physicians Across Continents, said that the fund “is still in the growth stage and is constantly being developed. It is not bound by United Nations laws, but it does not abdicate its responsibility to provide humanitarian aid to northern Syria.”
Regarding the goal of AFNS, al-Masri told Enab Baladi, “We are working for AFNS to be an alternative to providing humanitarian aid to northern Syria in the event that the United Nations is unable to provide aid, and the region also needs other funds parallel to AFNS and the United Nations.”
AFNS is an alternative proposal to the United Nations Humanitarian Fund “SCHF,” with the aim of confronting Russian blackmail regarding the entry of aid into northern Syria, according to Dr. al-Masri.
Regarding its work mechanism, al-Masri explained that it is a financing fund similar to the work mechanism of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Aid at the United Nations (OCHA) and depends on assessing the response needs in various humanitarian sectors.
It will also provide financing to intermediary humanitarian organizations, and it is able to implement projects on the ground. The best advantage of the AFNS is to prevent Russia and China from controlling the humanitarian aid file in Syria.
The fund is indicated to Idlib and the northern countryside of Aleppo only, and there are consultants, representatives of international organizations, and representatives of countries, and 10 Syrian organizations with field experience were selected to implement projects, according to al-Masri.
To ensure the transparency of the fund, an advisory committee was formed consisting of nine people representing three Syrian organizations, three international humanitarian organizations, and three supporting bodies. An employee was appointed as the coordinator of this group, and its function is to manage all the money in the fund by approving it or not.
The regions of northwestern Syria are witnessing a shortage in humanitarian needs amid the high prices of food and fuel that the region is witnessing, which has increased the poverty rate in the region.
Dr. Qutaiba Sayed Issa, Violet director, said that the AFNS does not meet the mounting humanitarian need in northern Syria despite the importance of its presence.
The fund needs time to develop, and the Scandinavian countries and Japan have refused to provide aid except through United Nations agencies.
The Syrian Response Coordination Group (SRCG), a local relief team, warned of the “danger” of relying on this AFNS alone and considered that its funding in the second phase would reach $200 million, while international funding reached $1.21 billion during 2022.
Also, the fund is managed by an economic company that does not have the necessary experience in managing humanitarian operations, unlike humanitarian organizations and United Nations agencies, in addition to the fact that the new mechanism will not be a sufficient substitute for cross-border humanitarian aid.
Those working in the humanitarian sector are constantly demanding that the humanitarian file be separated from the ongoing war in Syria and to prevent the Russians from blackmailing aid cases, which they use to achieve political goals by floating the Syrian regime by financing projects in areas under its control and restricting cross-border aid through the regime.
New chance for regime’s blackmail
The activist and researcher in humanitarian affairs in Syria, Maamoun Sayed Issa, does not ignore the importance of the role of the AFNS initiative, as it began with funding amounting to $70 million and began implementing projects.
It is a means of preventing Russian blackmail, and it is “important, even if it is not fully implemented at the present time,” he told Enab Baladi.
Maamoun Sayed Issa, who is also the relations officer at the Ataa Relief organization, added that Western donors have adopted an alternative mechanism for the United Nations outside of Russian blackmail, and despite the Insaf mechanism not being fully ready, it is currently working and distributing funding to some projects in cooperation with a number of local organizations in northern Syria.
He pointed out that the Syrian regime agreed to extend the provision of international aid to northern Syria for a period of six months, starting last July, for the Bab al-Hawa border crossing and for three months for the Bab al-Salama and al-Rai crossings north of Aleppo.
It is possible that we will witness new Syrian-Russian “blackmail” threatening the entry of humanitarian aid into the region, Sayed Issa said.
The AFNS mechanism could be ready in the event of this blackmail, according to Sayed Issa, noting that although the entry of humanitarian aid into northern Syria was halted for two months after Russia used its veto right in the Security Council, the UN warehouses in the north were able to cover this period.
Regarding the impact of delayed aid on northern Syria, Sayed Issa explained that there is a problem that may be graver than the delay in aid delivery, which is the decrease in the value of international support, the reduction in the size of the food basket provided, and the decrease in the number of beneficiaries of the food basket from five million people to 1.5 million beneficiaries over the years so that the distribution of food basket becomes once every two months.
A new office to coordinate aid distribution in Idlib
On August 6, the understanding between the United Nations and the regime’s government produced the decision to enter humanitarian aid needed by Syrians outside its areas of control to the latter after the Russian veto thwarted the decision to extend the mechanism through the Security Council.
The Syrian Salvation Government (SSG), a local governing body in Idlib, refused aid entry from Bab al-Hawa during the recent period in protest against linking the entry of aid to a decision by the regime and due to the lack of coordination with the Salvation Government.
According to Sayed Issa, the PR officer at the Ataa Relief, the Deputy Regional Coordinator of the United Nations, David Karen, addressed the Humanitarian Action Coordination Office (HAC), a new body recently established by the Salvation Government, asking them to facilitate the entry of aid from Bab al-Hawa border crossing.
On September 12, HAC responded by authorizing the United Nations to enter aid from Bab al-Hawa, and the office asked the OCHA representative to coordinate jointly with it in any aid entry process into the region.
On September 14, a meeting was held between UN representatives and the Humanitarian Coordination Office at the Bab al-Hawa crossing, which indicates the imminent entry of aid from the border crossing.
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