Donald Trump gave the green light to Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Turkish offensive in northeastern Syria against the Kurds and their allies, causing many deaths and injuries, destroying infrastructure and driving more than 200,000 people from their homes.
It should be recalled that in this region, out of a population of 3 million inhabitants, there were already 710,000 displaced persons and 1.8 million people in need of essential humanitarian assistance before this attack. This shows the scale of the vital needs of these populations plunged into chaos that has disorganized and reduced humanitarian aid at the very time when it must, on the contrary, be intensified.
Various humanitarian organisations are active in the north-east: local and international NGOs, United Nations agencies, the Kurdish Red Crescent, the Red Cross family including the Syrian Red Crescent (SARC). A significant part of the aid is being channelled from Iraq for obvious reasons of proximity and effectiveness.
Keep the doors of aid open.
It is therefore essential that border crossings with Iraq remain open and that the United Nations pay particular attention to them, while Ursula Mueller, Deputy Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs of the United Nations, alerts the Security Council to the urgent need to increase humanitarian aid and support the action of organisations operating in Syria from Iraq.
This is a very important issue for international humanitarian assistance. Indeed, it is based on the vital needs of populations wherever they are. But so far, international NGOs have been prevented from doing so in Syria. Some operate in areas controlled by Damascus and others in areas beyond its control. This has never been a deliberate choice on their part, but the only reason is circumstances and events.
The risk ahead is that, by gradually regaining control of part of the north-east, the government in Damascus will seek to bring out the neutral, impartial and independent humanitarian actors who provide necessary assistance to millions of Syrians in this region, as elsewhere in Syria.
This would be a serious mistake both for the short and medium-term relief efforts and for the subsequent reconstruction of infrastructure and the return of millions of displaced persons and refugees throughout the country. Because these humanitarian organizations have the capacity to respond to the emergency, but also to contribute to the reconstruction of housing infrastructure, drinking water supply, health, education and the revival of income-generating activities.
Humanitarian aid anticipates reconstruction.
It is well known that humanitarian aid and the reconstruction of the country will take a long time and cost hundreds of billions of dollars. Allowing humanitarian actors to provide long-term assistance to all Syrians is undoubtedly one of the conditions for mobilizing the necessary financial efforts on the part of the international community. The opposite path would have disastrous effects on the future of this country, which has been at war for almost 10 years.
But we are not there yet. The Syrian army is deploying slowly. The Kurds of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) represent a large population and remain a significant military force with their Christian and Arab allies. Daech fighters are reorganizing and jihadist groups armed by Turkey are camping along the border, Russian military police are patrolling with Turkish soldiers. The M4 motorway, which used to have 235 trucks per month for the delivery of relief supplies, is still cut off. In this uncertain context, the approaching winter is another threat to the displaced and humanitarian workers on the ground must mobilize now to face it.
Geopolitics at work and lessons for humanitarian workers.
While this war is characterized by the complexity of its political, religious, ethnic and ideological antagonisms, the regional geopolitical constant is a relatively stable factor that evolves according to crises and power relations.
Recent events confirm the decline in the influence of Western countries, particularly the United States, which is returning to isolationism, but also France and the United Kingdom, not to mention the European Union, in favour of the regimes and alliances led by Russia with Turkey, Syria and Iran.
It is almost a banality as much as a necessity to call to open our eyes to this rapidly changing world in which globalization and multilateralism are evolving towards a multipolar, multicultural world where each Nation State feels the need to reaffirm its existence, its uniqueness and its interests.
What will be the consequences of these changes for humanitarian aid? Undoubtedly, it will be more necessary tomorrow than ever. But won’t this change its conditions of practice? Humanitarian aid has remained stable on its principles and practices while undergoing considerable development: how will it have to adapt while remaining true to itself?
In the immediate future, the best answer to this question is still to fulfil our humanitarian mission in Syria and elsewhere on the sole basis of the vital needs of the populations, while also knowing that the most vulnerable are sometimes entire communities and minorities whose very existence is in danger.
Finally, I must point out that I am expressing my only point of view here, that I am not speaking on behalf of any humanitarian organization and that I only hope that these few thoughts will be useful to the humanitarian work that the people in Syria are most in need of today.