Seventy-three Syrian aid groups on Thursday suspended their cooperation with the UN, accusing the world body of complacency in the face of what they called manipulation by the government to deny help to people in opposition-held areas.
In a letter to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the UN agency that oversees aid to civilians affected by the Syria conflict, the groups said: “The Syrian government in Damascus has a significant and substantial influence on the performance of UN agencies based in Damascus” and their partners, including the Syrian Arab Red Crescent.
The signers of the letter, including some groups based outside Syria that seek to provide help to people in opposition-controlled territory, said they would no longer participate in an information-sharing system used by the UN in aid distribution.
They said the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad had exploited the system to steer aid to areas he regards as politically acceptable.
“This deliberate manipulation by the Syrian government and the complacency of the UN have played hand-in-hand,” the letter stated. “The people of Syria have suffered ever more as a result.”
The signers would reconsider their suspension of cooperation if the information-sharing system for aid distribution was revised so “there is no political influence in any aspect of it,” the letter said.
However, “we have little hope that the UN-coordinated humanitarian response might operate independently of the political priorities of the Syrian government,” they added.
It was not immediately clear how the suspension of cooperation might affect aid delivery in Syria, which has been hampered by severe government restrictions since the conflict began more than five years ago.
Signers of the letter included the Syrian American Medical Society and the Syrian Civil Defense, which operate in areas held by insurgents opposed to al-Assad.
The letter said the signers collectively provide aid to more than 7 million Syrians, including about 1 million refugees in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey.
Syrian American Medical Society president Ahmad Tarakji said in a telephone interview that the letter reflected broad frustration over repeated instances in which help for sick and dying civilians in besieged parts of Syria had been blocked by the government.
He also said that under the UN information-sharing system, some aid intended for civilians winds up in Syrian military bases.
“We think the mechanism is a failure,” he said.
Office spokeswoman Amanda Pitt confirmed that it had received the letter.
In an e-mailed statement that did not criticize the aid groups for their decision, the office said: “We will continue to engage with them, and with all humanitarian partners, in order to improve our collective efforts and reach as many people in need as possible in Syria.”
There was no immediate comment about the letter from al-Assad’s government.
UN officials in Syria have often complained that al-Assad’s government had impeded their aid delivery and repeatedly implored it to allow unobstructed access.
However, as in other countries where the UN provides services, it must operate with the permission of the host government.
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