1128 GMT October 07, 2022
The sanctions have had negative impacts on the war-weary Syrian people and directly affected the Arab state’s ordinary population, said the spokesperson of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Syria.
Making the remark in an exclusive interview with Iran Daily, Adnan Hezam added the ICRC has raised the issue in its meetings with related officials and organizations.
The crisis in Syria, which erupted in the aftermath of the unrests in the country in 2011 and the consequent brutal attacks by the Daesh terrorist group, was such dire and destructive that even five years after the defeat of Deash in the country, its impacts and consequences are still quite evident in different Syrian regions and cities as well as on people’s faces.
In addition to having killed thousands of people in 11 years, the war in Syria has also led to the homelessness and displacement of millions of the country’s nationals.
Hezam put the number of the displaced Syrian nationals at seven million, noting that 14 million are still living in unfavorable conditions and need humanitarian aid.
He said half of the country’s health centers as a result of the war have become dysfunctional and the living conditions in many Syrian regions fail to let a return by the refugees.
Hezam noted that given the widespread destruction in Syria, the country’s situation will not be able to return to normal for a long time in the absence of international intervention and the global community’s assistance.
Excerpts of the interview follow:
IRAN DAILY: Would you please tell us about the history and background of the ICRC’s activities in Syria? What regions of the country are currently under the coverage of the committee’s activities?
ADNAN HEZAM: The ICRC has been present in Syria since 1967, right after the occupation of the Golan Heights. Since then, we were present in the country as a neutral mediator, facilitating movement by people from one side of the occupied regions to the other. For instance, we prepared the ground for those students who sought to study at Syrian universities or farmers who wanted to sell their products in different regions of the country. However, following the crisis that began in the country in 2011, throwing it into conflict and an unfavorable situation, the ICRC, along with its working partner the Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC), has been present in different regions of the country, providing assistance. At present, the ICRC is closely cooperating with the SARC in different Syrian cities such as Damascus, Aleppo and Homs, and, in view of the emergency situation in the country, is active in the fields of offering health and essential services, facilitating water transfer and supplying sanitary and potable water.
How did the ICRC manage to provide assistance in Syria during the presence of Daesh in the country? How is the committee’s present connections and relations with the areas dominated by Turkish and Kurdish forces?
At the time of conflict, the ICRC tries to interact with all engaged parties to facilitate aid provision. The committee adopts this approach in view of the principles of humanity and neutrality and on the basis of the humanitarian ones. The ICRC never incorporates or resorts to political approaches in such affairs. Through seeking to establish connection and hold dialogue with all engaged parties, the ICRC is after gaining access to different regions to be able to assist affected people in the war zones and areas impacted by conflicts. In Syria, given the circumstance on the ground, the ICRC did its best to interact and connect with all engaged parties. Our efforts to this end, however, faced different challenges at times. But we have always sought to take required measures despite all the problems. The fact that the ICRC is not a political organization and is not faced with any limit in this regard, enables it to assess affected people’s needs in conflict areas and meet them, which otherwise would be impossible.
Could you please explicitly tell us whether the ICRC managed to establish any connection with Daesh in order to facilitate its aid provision or not? If yes, what was the terrorist group’s reaction?
I cannot give an explicit answer to this question. Neither can I name the groups with which we established connection or tell how that contact was made. Nevertheless, I can tell you that we have held talks with all sides in Syria, of course, at different levels and in diverse forms. The talks have so far enabled us to have access to the affected people. We will continue the talks to gain access to a larger number of people in the country.
Could you please tell us about the extent of the damage to different Syrian cities since the beginning of the war?
Such information is available in the statements and reports published by the ICRC over the past years. We have released numerous reports about the amount of damage and relevant costs in the country. We, however, does not seek to hold anybody accountable for the damages and losses, but look for solutions and measures to improve the situation and prepare the ground for Syrian refugees to return home. As you know, Syria has suffered a great deal of damage and losses over the past years, and many people of the country have lost their loved ones. In addition, millions of Syrian nationals have been displaced. Over 14 million people in the country are still in need of humanitarian aid and close to seven million are displaced.
Hand in hand with other organizations and institutes, the ICRC is doing, and will do, its best to reduce such peoples’ pain and grief and has managed to meet part of their needs. This comes as, what has so far been done on the ground fails to be comparable in size and amount to the existing needs. Syria still needs further measures and assistance. At present, the ICRC’s gravest concern in Syria is ensuring the continuity of assistance provision to the country’s affected people in an effort to help them return to normal life.
Would you please list the ICRC’s measures in Syria during and after the presence of Daesh?
The ICRC’s measures have been implemented in areas impacted by the conflict and its consequences in cooperation with the SARC. At the beginning of the conflict in Syria, we were in an emergency state, which called for carrying out rescue operations and supplying food to people. We would also support the societies impacted by the crisis in terms of providing rescue and health services. Our assistance would normally begin at refugee camps and shelters. Of course, such assistance is needed to continue in Syria. At present, given the drop in the level of the conflicts, we seek to move toward providing more sustainable assistance and pay attention to people’s other priorities and needs. Given the extensive studies carried out in this regard, we have started the reconstruction of the country’s infrastructure, for instance water facilities. In general, today, our activities in Syria have changed in view of the situation on the ground and ongoing needs.
As you know, the economic situation has exacerbated in the country due to the 11-year crisis and the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has impacted people’s daily lives. Thus, we seek to, in addition to meeting people’s basic needs, through supplying food and water for instance, support small businesses in the country so that Syrians would be able to return to normal life as soon as possible.
We will continue to stand by the people of Syria to help reduce their pain. We, at the ICRC, hope that the international community would not forget about the Syrian people as we need further humanitarian assistance in the country. The ICRC, at the same time, appreciates the assistance provided so far to Syria.
Do you think that less attention and aid is directed toward Syrian people at present compared to when the crisis was at its peak in the country?
We totally understand that the media attention and focus would shift toward other issues given the existing crises and the COVID-19 pandemic, yet we are interested in seeing continued coverage of the Syrian crisis by international media as the situations of the country and its people are still quite sensitive.
What percentage of the seven million Syrian refugees have been resettled or returned back home?
Honestly speaking, we fail to have any accurate statistics of the refugees who have returned back home. However, I know that most of the Syrian refugees are interested in going back to their country. To prepare the ground for their return, however, considerable efforts are required to swiftly reconstruct and renovate the country’s infrastructure given the extent of the damage and destruction it has suffered.
The ICRC is a humanitarian organization with limited resources to meet urgent needs. Governments are required to help develop and reconstruct Syria.
The ICRC, in general, welcomes cooperation with any aid and rescue society across the globe. I am certain that the ICRC is in constant contact with the Iranian Red Crescent Society.
To what extent sanctions on Syria have hindered delivery of humanitarian aid to the country?
The sanctions have had negative impacts on the war-weary people of Syria and directly affected the Arab state’s ordinary population. We have raised the issue in our meetings with related officials and organizations.