Aid Organizations Hope Talks Lead To Mobility In Syria

Fighting in Syria has internally displaced some 4 million people, and aid has only reached half of them. Humanitarian groups hope the talks in Geneva will allow them to get more aid into the country. NPR's Jacki Lyden speaks with Khaled Erksoussi, the head of operations for the Syrian Arab Red Crescent.

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While both sides try to reach an agreement at the Geneva II talks, many aid agencies and humanitarian organizations are watching from the sidelines, hoping that they will be allowed to move freely around Syria. At the moment, they cannot travel to certain areas and are prohibited from bringing supplies like vaccinations to those who need them. Khaled Erksoussi is the head of operations for the Syrian Arab Red Crescent. And he joins us from Damascus. Mr. Erksoussi, thank you very much for being with us.


LYDEN: So, what do you need from these talks to make it possible for the Syrian Arab Red Crescent to do its work inside Syria?

ERKSOUSSI: Well, we believe that as the biggest humanitarian agency here in Syria, to grant us access to all the people in need all around Syria and that we are allowed to bring all kind of material to those people, including the food, the non-food, the medical because they are in need of everything.

LYDEN: What about the international community. Has it done enough to help you?

ERKSOUSSI: To tell you the truth, a tap on the shoulder doesn't feed the people while hungry. We want to push those people meeting in Geneva now to put their money where their mouth is. Yes, very much - we like this nice talk but food parcels or the vaccine or the medicines, we are still in need.

LYDEN: I understand - speaking of vaccines and medicines - that these can be very hard to get to people. Why is this so difficult?

ERKSOUSSI: Dealing with the government side and sometimes dealing with other sides - and I mean sides because there are a lot of groups on the ground. It's sometimes very frustrating and challenging. You have to convince this official or that official that approval we got from the government, for instance, to get vaccines means that I need to make the vaccine happen. If this small official stopped me from taking syringes with me, that doesn't count that I made the vaccines. It's not that I carry the bottle of vaccines through his checkpoint. I need to administrate it to the people in need. And for the other side sometimes, it's hard to negotiate when you have, for instance, support coming from International Red Cross and Red Crescent societies. They see the cross sometimes on the boxes and say, no, we cannot let you back past because it have the cross. And you have to explain all the Geneva conventions stated to them that the Red Cross is not a cross. It came from the opposite of the Swiss flag. But they don't understand.

Now, they are meeting all together with all those foreign ministries. Yes, we care to find that they find a particular solution but we care also at least - if they don't agree about anything in this Geneva II - at least they agree that the humanitarian access be granted to the Syrian Arab Red Crescent or the Red Cross and the Red Crescent so we can reach those people. It may be one of the things that they can agree upon so they won't get back empty-handed.

LYDEN: So, just to follow on that, at least you want to see coming out of these talks agreement that you be allowed to move around more safely?

ERKSOUSSI: Yes. The Syrian government, from the beginning of the crisis, has admitted that the Syrian Red Crescent, at least on paper, is the humanitarian agency they accept. We are a Syrian organization after all. We want to hold the government for their word and we can't - we want the others to push for that and say to the Syrian government you have accepted the Syrian Red Crescent to be the humanitarian agency in Syria. But you need to let them enter. If you don't let us enter, it doesn't mean anything if we are staying out and people are dying in those besieged areas.

LYDEN: Khaled Erksoussi is the head of operations for the Syrian Arab Red Crescent and he spoke with us from Damascus. Thank you so much for being with us.

ERKSOUSSI: Thank you.

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