The conflict in Syria has started since 2012 and the conflict still till nowadays in many areas in Syria. Currently, 13.5 million Syrians are in need of humanitarian assistance, 4.8m have fled the country and 6.3m are internally displaced according to UN Agencies. Access – or more accurately the lack of it – for humanitarian agencies to provide assistance and protection to people in need has been a defining issue since the conflict began, where access challenges are the main impediment to the delivery of humanitarian assistance. The reasons why access is limited vary, but a major obstacle is the level of violence and extreme danger (bombing, kidnapping, sniper fire). Issues such as the legality of cross-border operations, the lack of investment in genuine partnerships with local organizations, mistrust towards local organizations and within the ‘formal’ system itself, as well as the implications of counterterrorism measures on humanitarian action, have all been brought to the surface. At the same time, however, the conflict has brought to the fore the role of local organizations, diaspora groups, local councils and others. These groups have almost inadvertently filled the gap left by the limited international presence, providing both assistance and protection.
It is generally understood to mean access by aid agencies to people in need, and people’s ability to access services (OCHA, 2009). The Practitioners’ Manual on Humanitarian Access in Situations of Armed Conflict defines access as follows: Access by humanitarian actors to people in need of assistance and protection AND access by those in need to the goods and services essential for their survival and health, in a manner consistent with core humanitarian principles (FDFA/OCHA/CDI, 2014). While there is general agreement that access should be a two-way street – access for humanitarian agencies to affected people, and affected people’s access to assistance, beyond that there is a lack of clarity on what constitutes good access. Is it when access can be sustained over a long period regardless of what can actually be done in terms of alleviating suffering? Is it still considered good humanitarian access when agencies are told what they can and cannot do, as opposed to delivering what is actually needed?.
In situations of armed conflict access is regulated by International Humanitarian Law (IHL)1 . Primary responsibility for meeting the needs of civilians lies with the party to the conflict with control over these populations. If this party is unable or unwilling to meet these needs, offers to carry out relief operations may be made. Once such offers have been accepted, parties must allow and facilitate the rapid and unimpeded passage of relief consignments, personnel and equipment.
There are a variety of reasons why access maybe constrained, and more often than not it is a combination of different factors that prevents aid from reaching those in need. These factors are external as well as internal. External factors in the case of Syria are in no small part related to the conduct of hostilities. The intense level of combat, coupled with a lack of adherence to IHL principles such as distinction and proportionality, mean that aid agencies are operating in a highly dangerous and unpredictable environment. Last but not least, individual aid agencies’ own decisions determine to some degree their access. MHD thinks that the humanitarian sector has become risk-averse, with some organizations adopting self-imposed limitations on where they operate, due to security risks, to prevent any potential violations of counter-terrorism laws or to avoid potential reputational risks.
It is important to acknowledge that MHD does not operate in isolation and that, despite the limited physical presence of international organization with international staff, they remain significant players in terms of the provision of humanitarian assistance in the Syria response
Access became significantly over time and from one geographical location to another, within the same location and depending on who seeks or indeed grants access. The main access constraints as the following;
Following the Security Council’s decision with Resolution to authorize cross-border operations, humanitarian organizations based in Syria, Turkey and Jordan decided to embark on a Whole-of-Syria (WOS) approach. At the core of this approach is an improved operational planning process, greater coherence between the various geographically dispersed aid operations and improved information-sharing (UN OCHA, 2017). While this has had some effect, the response continues to be plagued by difficulties both internal to the humanitarian system, and external. The importance of partnerships between international and local organizations has long been recognized, though this often remains on a rhetorical level. Once the border is crossed, for example from Turkey, each step of the way needs to be negotiated with whoever holds a particular stretch of territory. How ‘easy’ or difficult that is depends very much on who is in charge.
Therefore, MHD will ensure to get the needed permissions from the Turkish authorities to cross the borders to deliver the needed assistance. MHD is registered in Turkey and has the permission in in Turkey and provide the assistance out of Turkey as well. On the other hand, Turkey created their own coordination structures, such as the Syrian NGO Alliance (NGA) and MHD will ensure to keep coordination with it to ensure getting the needed permissions for a sooth cross border.
The category of ‘non-traditional’ or ‘local’ actor (or those that do not fit the label ‘humanitarian actor’, (i.e. armed groups)) is by no means monolithic and Non-traditional actors work across the spectrum, some providing direct assistance, others working indirectly through remote management or remote support. In some locations, these groups are considered as one of the most difficulties for humanitarian access and some type the organizations are enforced to work according to specific agenda. Some armed groups are more receptive to the idea of humanitarian assistance than others, though dialogue between command structures and groups on the ground is usually not systematically organized. Knowing who’s who among armed groups is a challenge in itself.
Therefore, MHD will try to stay out of these agendas and keep the humanitarian principle through its projects. Equally important, MHD will not participate in any coordination or activities which get involve the illegal and informal armed groups especially those classified as terrorists groups.
Otherwise, MHD will keep coordination if needed with legal local authority in needed based on the humanitarian standards and UN agencies advices and guidance.
These councils are also often intermediaries for negotiations between relief groups – both local and international – and armed groups around humanitarian access. The capacity of these committees to provide assistance and generally assume functions of governance varies from one group to another, as does the extent of their independence from local armed groups.
So MHD will build relationship if needed with these councils to ensure a smooth humanitarian access to ensure getting the permissions the acceptance from the local communities and local administrative committees. This will be depending on the specific protocols and humanitarian principle to ensure meeting the humanitarian standards.
Due to the conflict in the intervention areas, security concerns till the most difficult challenge for humanitarian access. Especially the military operation in the conflict areas and large number of airstrikes, bombing, shelling and the clashes in many locations inside of Syria. Therefore, MHD created safety and security policy and procedures to be followed by MHD team during the implementation of the projects under monitoring of security department and guidance. Activities suspension, evacuation, new procedures, etc will be decided according to the secutiy situation in the intervention area.
Until recently, the climate of fear and mistrust and the need to protect the security of staff, beneficiaries and partners inside Syria made information-sharing, coordination and cooperation between aid groups – both traditional and non-traditional – difficult. At the same time, the need for alternative models in the humanitarian response in Syria has necessarily entailed a certain level of coordination and partnership, both for INGOs and diaspora NGOs operating from Turkey, as well as for local groups working inside the country. MHD keeps coordination with its partners and UN cluster to ensure getting the needed support and information about the updated issues of the humanitarian context. On the other hand, getting their advices and recommendation in terms of humanitarian access and humanitarian response. The different working groups will be involved with MHD plan and strategy also, MHD will benefit from the experience of the members in case facing any challenges in the humanitarian response.