Middle East

Regime grabbing most aid sent to Syria Red Crescent: NGO

Smoke rises after an explosion in the Syrian village of Bariqa close to the ceasefire line between Israel and Syria, near Alonei Habashan on the Israeli occupied Golan Heights November 7, 2012. REUTERS/Baz Ratner

GENEVA: Almost all international aid sent to the Syrian Arab Red Crescent is being confiscated by the regime and never reaches civilians in need, an umbrella relief group for the war-ravaged country said Wednesday, although major aid humanitarian organisations denied the claims.

"Ninety, even 95 percent of everything that is sent to Syrian Red  headquarters in Damascus goes to support the Syrian regime, especially the soldiers...," said Tawfik Chamaa, spokesman for the Union of Syrian Medical Relief Organisations (UOSSM).

"It will not reach the civilians who are bombed every day or besieged," he told reporters in Geneva.

He charged that cash or materials sent to the Red Crescent were being "confiscated by the regime".

However, the International Committee of the Red Cross and the UN World Food Programme (WFP), which both work closely with the Syrian Red Crescent, denied their aid was being seized.

Some 1.2 million people inside Syria are in need of emergency humanitarian aid, according to the United Nations, as the conflict nears its 20th month with a death toll activists says now tops 36,000.

Chamaa, a founding member of the group of 14 aid organisations from countries including France, Switzerland, Turkey and the United States, urged bigger humanitarian agencies to ensure that aid sent actually reaches people in need.

He said a convoy of 11 trucks belonging to the WFP, whose aid is largely distributed by the Red Crescent, had recently disappeared in northern Syria.

But WFP spokeswoman Elisabeth Byrs said: "I believe there is absolutely no confiscation".

"WFP food monitors are able to visit most areas to check that food is reaching the people who need it most. Even in some dangerous areas, they use WFP armoured vehicles."

She insisted that the Red Crescent, "as the designated coordinator of humanitarian assistance in the country, operates through branches in an independent manner".

The ICRC said it was aware of the allegations.

"Whenever such facts are clearly established, which does not appear to be the case now, we treat them very seriously and address directly with the management of (the Syrian Red Crescent) and Syrian authorities" ICRC spokeswoman Anastasia Isyuk told AFP in an email.

She stressed that the ICRC and the Syrian Red Crescent "strive to assist all populations in need without any discrimination, which is a challenging task given the deteriorating humanitarian situation and security conditions."

The two organisations had recently managed to deliver medical and food aid to some 1,200 people in the Old City of Homs, and since the beginning of the year had provided food, water and other assistance to more than one million people across Syria, she said.

The UOSSM, which has set up around 30 field hospitals around Syria and is trying to establish 30 more, meanwhile believes that the country is heading for a humanitarian "catastrophe," Chamaa said.

He said that for every person killed since the uprising began in March last year, between four and six people had been wounded.

In addition to those directly affected by fighting, many people were dying "silent deaths" -- not from bullets or bombings, but from a lack of medicine and access to treatment for diseases like cancer or diabetes or for Caesarian births.

The UOSSM was set up at the beginning of the year mainly by Syrian doctors living in the diaspora.





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