Following the violent earthquake that claimed nearly 30,000 lives in Turkey and Syria the entire world gasped in horror as the full scale of the carnage became apparent. In only a few minutes nearly 18 million people were made homeless, many of those lucky enough to survive often found themselves with little more than the clothes on their backs.
While planes of life-saving aid, filled with food, clothing, medicine, and bedding were landing in Damascus the only thing entering the liberated areas were caravans of corpses, Syrian refugees who had died in the earthquake in Turkey. The 40 planes of earthquake relief are estimated to be worth hundreds of millions of dollars, most of which is likely to line the coffers of Assad and his closest supporters.
For nearly a decade Assad has been profiteering from international aid meant to assist the very same people he has been torturing, murdering, raping, and terrorizing. Prior to Russian support aid revenue was one of the crutches of the ailing Assad regime. This is, in part, one of the reasons some western nations are reluctant to send aid through regime-controlled channels.
However, in the last few days outraged citizens in regime-controlled areas have riddled social media with posts, photographs, and videos decrying the rampant and blatant theft of recently arrived earthquake relief.
Whether videos of Emirati aid for Damascus’ Karaj Al Sit bazaar or tweets about loyalist militias commandeering aid it is clear even those in regime-controlled areas acknowledge the reprehensible nature of these acts. One such post came from Mueen Ali of Assad-controlled Latakia who shared an emotional video on Facebook angrily criticizing the confiscation of aid by Assad’s government, local sources relate he was arrested by security forces the next day.
Those familiar with the region are not surprised, as analyst Charles Lister mentions in a recent article, “the [Assad] regime has a consistent, decade-long track record of manipulating, diverting, stealing, and spoiling humanitarian aid.” Entrusting vital lifesaving resources to the very government that is responsible for murdering the intended beneficiaries is putting the proverbial fox in charge of the hen-house.
For the 4 million Syrians suffering 12 years of war and the greatest natural disaster in nearly a century humanitarian aid is what likely stands between them and death, with a crippled and overburdened medical sector and thousands of injured; food, medicine, and equipment are essential to their continued survival, as is shelter, fuel and clothing for the thousands of now homeless Syrians trying to survive through winter.
Those organizations and countries sincerely trying to help the Syrian people must implement alternate means to provide aid and assistance to those most in need. Many legal experts have noted that there is nothing international law prohibiting the UN, for example, from directly sending aid via Turkey’s borders with the liberated areas of Syria. Direct lines of transmission exist, there are no legal or logistical barriers in the path to saving lives, only political ones.