Ten years into a war that has devastated Syria, aid is increasingly weaponised - not necessarily because of a lack of it, but because of where it ends up.
Footage emerged on social media from pro-YPG/PKK terror group channel showing a bunch of UN aid boxes piled up in a base that was earmarked for Syria's civilians in need.
The reporter says the headquarter belonged to Assad's former National Defence Forces, and following recent clashes between the regime militias and YPG/PKK in Syria’s Qamishli, the group seized the UN World Food Programme's aid packages.
“The mercenaries found over 1,000 humanitarian aid boxes from the organisations that coordinated work with the Damascus government,” the reporter from Hawar Media, affiliated with the PKK terror group’s Syrian branch, the YPG/PYD, says in a video clip.
“WFP aid boxes which are handed to the Damascus government and supposed to benefit needy families, are kept in the National Defence headquarters in al-Tai neighborhood,” the reporter said.
After more than a decade since the Syrian war began, at least 80 percent of the country's population now lives under the poverty line, and there is no end in sight for the war. Humanitarian aid is now essentially a weapon of war for the Assad regime.
The regime has been completely or partially blocking cross-border humanitarian access with visa restrictions imposed on aid workers and other bureaucratic obstacles, undermining the aid efforts. But whom the humanitarian organisations deliver the aid to in Syria, some say, is equally as important as the amount of aid provided.
Bolstering the weaponisation of aid?
The recent discovery of the regime’s redirecting of aid isn’t new. The regime has been long accused of channeling humanitarian aid intended for civilians to either its militias or its loyalists, as well as to bribe desperate people to become informants.
In 2016, an investigation overseeing UN documents said the regime was controlling the organisation’s aid intended for Syria’s vulnerable, by allowing the regime to dictate where and how to deliver the aid. A few months after the investigation, more than 70 aid groups reportedly suspended cooperating with the UN office in Syria.
In 2021, the UN still functions only with the blessing of the regime, raising questions about the global body’s impartiality.
The collaboration between the regime and the UN also came under the spotlight when Syrian doctors in opposition-held areas confided in the UN by sharing locations of hidden hospitals with the hopes it would bring protection from regime air strikes. The regime then would be told to avoid targeting medical facilities. Instead, doctors said hospitals were attacked more frequently.
“UN aid channels coordinated in Damascus have been deeply corrupted and tied intrinsically to networks of regime-linked distributors, security companies, and associated ‘charities’,” Charles Lister, director of the Syria Program of the Middle East Institute said in a report in January.
“Consequently, while we may be providing the vast majority of aid, our generosity is being manipulated in pursuit of the regime’s domestic interests,” Lister said adding that the UN may be a part of the problem enabling Assad to use aid for his own benefit but can also be a part of the solution.