2018 is considered as the second worst year for aid worker security: 405 aid workers-most of whom were nationals of the countries where they work- were killed, wounded or kidnapped in 226 separate attacks according to Humanitarian Outcomes Aid Worker Security Report 2019. Syria is among the second worst following South Sudan. Could you please elaborate on the issue of protection of humanitarian aid workers within Syria context?
The Government of Syria always attacks Humanitarian Infrastructure with their efforts to regain control over areas. By doing so, civilians feel the need to flee their homes seeking safe shelter in a different area. Humanitarians are being treated in the same way as OAG Fighters hence the fear of prosecution, detention and torture always haunt Aid Workers irrespective of whether they are male or female aid workers. Despite Aid Workers wanting to stay behind and keep serving their community, they feel GoS Forces have no respect to humanitarians and previous incidents from other areas like Eastern Ghouta & Northern Homs Countryside makes them wary of staying behind. My worst nightmare was when our hospital in Kfr Nobol was targeted from the air; it took 7 minutes from the time of me being made aware of the attack until we established that no casualties were sustained. These 7 minutes what I call “7 Minutes from Hell”. I was running around the office like a headless chicken and thinking of the worse and how many lives we lost and what would my message be to their families.
What role NGOs play, especially those working in remote control of the humanitarian interventions in this respect?
Delivering aid in Syria is one of the most complex cases where quite often the delivery of aid has to be managed remotely for many reasons whether access issues or security constraints. Only limited personnel may have access and in some cases no access at all. Management feel the need to remain committed to supporting their field team so they can serve their local community. At the same time, they feel the need to protect them especially if they operate in Besieged or Hard to Reach Areas. If GoS moves into these areas, then Aid Workers will be at risk of torture or detention. In cases where there were reconciliation agreements or agreements to evacuate those who wish to leave; NGOs feel the need to support Aid Workers who decided to leave or even keep track of those who did remain behind. Driven by passion from NGOs to support alongside with support from Donors; Duty of Care was agreed on minimum standard of expected support. In addition to many means of keeping track of humanitarian workers who stayed behind to ensure they are safe and sound, some of these mechanisms are through working with ICRC.
I also see a great role that we should play with planning and steering of humanitarian assistance in Syria by being active in many events like SSG, HLG and Conferences.
Sustained advocacy is considered vital to address overall civilian casualties; including that of humanitarian aid workers. Could you please elaborate which advocacy measures do NGO Forum and its members take to address this issue?
NGO Forum is all about joining efforts to serve our community and provide the best service; Advocacy is one of these tools where voices are joined, and messages are being transmitted through various outlets or channels. We are not only talking about “Public Messages” but many more “Private Letters or Messages” trying to raise awareness and highlight issues. Advocacy Working Group is one of these outlets where specialists and experts from various NGO Forum members meet and come out with advocacy messages. Working with other Forums or Alliances also makes our voices heard and come stronger together. One of these examples is the Duty of Care; we are not only talking about attacks on humanitarians, but we also provided them with the insurance to support if the worse happens. Efforts are joined to come up with a joint video that is prepared with support from various NGO Forum members; this video is then shared by all members. NGO Forum Secretariat and Members has attended many private and public meetings; communication and consultation with Forum members always takes place ahead of any meeting to ensure all views and points are captured so they are presented to those in authority.
Could you please identify the best use of collective action for promotion of protection of humanitarian aid workers?
NGOs are now working together to collate information in relation to attacks on Humanitarian Workers and Facilities; these data are used for Private & Public Advocacy. Deconfliction of sites, despite it being subject to some disagreement, remains as a tool to protect Aid Workers & Humanitarian Facilities. This helps build a case of Crimes against Humanity and often get a mention at the UNSC hearing. We welcomed the news (despite it taking 8 years to be formed) that the UN Secretary-General has announced the establishment of an internal UN HQ Board of Inquiry to investigate a series of incidents that have occurred in northwest Syria. This will include all deconflicted sites that has been targeted.