Middle East

Groups Disagree Over How To Aid Syrians Caught In Civil War

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Aid has only trickled into Syria since the U.N. Security Council passed a resolution calling for more access to the country. Aid workers say bureaucratic obstacles continue to be a major problem.


Another humanitarian crisis, one of the worst since the Rwandan genocide, is unfolding in Syria. A Turkish relief organization says 134 trucks filled with humanitarian supplies are crossing the border into Syria today. The relief supplies in that convoy come from private agencies and individual donors and it's a rarity. The civil war there is now in its fourth year, but as NPR's Michele Kelemen reports, the international community can't agree on how to aid the millions of Syrians in need.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: When a convoy of aid actually reaches its destination, it makes for news in Syria. The Syrian Red Crescent Society posted this video of UN and Syrian aid workers pushing cartloads of supplies to a besieged neighborhood in Aleppo, a place that hadn't seen aid for nearly a year. The UN's refugee agency says workers walked back and forth with their boxes 270 times that day.

The humanitarian ceasefire was respected. It shouldn't be this difficult though. A UN Security Council resolution passed earlier this year calls on all sides in Syria to give aid workers access. Since then there have been only very incremental improvements, says the EU's commissioner on humanitarian aid, Kristalina Georgieva.

KRISTALINA GEORGIEVA: We are bailing the ocean with a slightly bigger spoon. The needs are so huge and the improvement in access so limited that for millions and millions of Syrians the positive impact of the resolution is yet to be felt.

KELEMEN: Each convoy has to be negotiated and not everything gets in, she points out in an interview with NPR.

GEORGIEVA: The government is very restrictive of what exactly can cross the lines to get into opposition-controlled areas, taking out some of the surgical kits from the deliveries. That is actually a war crime because you are depriving somebody who needs medical assistance of it.

KELEMEN: Asked if Syria is today's Rwanda, Georgieva pauses for a moment, saying the death toll hasn't reached that of Rwanda. But she says in some ways it's worse in Syria because the war has gone on so long, Syria's economy and health services have collapsed. The comparisons to Rwanda also came up across town yesterday at the Wilson Center, a Washington think tank where the president of the International Committee of the Red Cross was speaking about the failings of the international community.

Peter Maurer says the world worked together once on Syria to deal with the chemical weapons issue.

PETER MAURER: And I fail to understand why, when it comes to interests of civilian populations and protecting lives, it's not possible to have the same unified and strong political pressure to work on the parties.

KELEMEN: For aid groups to gain real access, they need Russia to put pressure on its ally, Syria. But while Moscow agreed to the UN resolution, few expect it will follow up to enforce humanitarian law and there is no appetite in Western capitals for a more aggressive humanitarian intervention. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.

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