In the recent months, we have seen several European countries sending worrying signals about their support to the civil action inside of Syria in the areas that are out of the control of the Syrian regime, especially in the North West. From pauses for reassessments, to un-declared freezing of projects funding, to recently stopping ongoing projects and programs, the support by Europe to the civil action is decreasing raising fear that Europe has given up on the struggle for freedom and dignity.
We remind the European countries of the crucial role that the civil action have played and is playing, whether through the Civil Society Organizations or through the local administrative structures including the local councils, in improving the livelihood conditions of millions of Syrians that live in the areas that they operate in. By providing services to the communities, in extremely harsh conditions while being targeted by the forces of the regime and its allies, the local civil action has helped increasing the resilience of those communities and insured, as much as possible under the difficult conditions, that the communities did not experience epidemic outbreaks or famine. A reasonable (although insufficient) ratio of children continues to go to schools and the societal structure in the concerned areas has not broken down. Hospitals, schools, water and sewer networks have been and are being rehabilitated after being destroyed by the regime and its allies or expanded to provide services to the local communities and the IDPs, who fled the regime and who represent now almost 50% of the population in these areas. Every day, tens of thousands of civil workers and civil activists are rebuilding and maintaining infrastructures, collecting garbage, rescuing victims from the rubbles of destroyed buildings, maintaining civil and property registries, teaching children at schools, providing health services, distributing food baskets and other relief items, building shelters, fighting for women empowerment and participation, developing models of inclusion of IDPs in the public life of the areas that they are is, and so on. Communities have also experienced democratic processes for the first time. They have experienced the meaning of values like solidarity, equality, freedom, dignity. Many people have become active in building their communities since they felt they could do so for the first time. For many, they became active in promoting peace and human rights and building social cohesion. The long term effects of such transformation will go and contribute to the future of Syria. European funds contributed to this transformation.
These tens of thousands of local civil actors are filling the void left by the regime-controlled institutions while preventing armed groups, whether those trying to help in good faith, or those trying to impose their undemocratic ideologies and agendas, from exploiting this void to gain control and power over the local communities. The lives, protection and freedom of millions of Syrians living in these areas, depend on the action of these civil actors, but also on the support and funding provided now mainly by European countries after the disengagement of the US Trump administration.
As part of the this chain of hope that is built of civil actors, we, Syrian civil society organizations, alert you on the high risks that are associated with any form of disengagement of such a support or of limiting it to purely humanitarian aid:
1. The political signal of such disengagement will be read by the regime and its allies as a clear acceptance or even worse, an invitation to invade these areas. We have seen the results of such an invasion in other areas, where massive destruction and attacks on civilians resulted in so many victims and so many new IDPs.
2. The void that such a disengagement will be exploited by radical armed groups to expand and control a population that will have no choice but to submit to their presence and control in exchange of a minimum level of services that those groups will then provide to expand their influence.
3. A sharp decrease of the level and quality of the services provided to the local communities, forcing tens if not hundreds of thousands of people, mainly families with children and young people, to flee to the north to attempt a dangerous crossing into Turkey and from there to Europe.
4. Transferring of funds to only humanitarian assistance, would primary affect the livelihood conditions of vulnerable populations, including women, children, and youth for which in particular, the risk of recruitment by armed groups will likely increase as a result.
5. Eventually, with weakened or absent local civic actors, the distribution of humanitarian aid will be controlled by the armed groups (similar to what is happening in Somalia for example) and the provider and funders of humanitarian aid may end up partially funding those armed groups, of which some are extremist groups, through the distribution of the humanitarian aid in order to have access to the local populations.
6. The reputation of the EU and the European countries as committed defenders of the European values of freedom and human rights will be damaged as the image that will prevail will be that of having giving in to abandoned the Syrian civil society actors and the populations they serve and advocate for in a very crucial moment of their struggle for survival, dignity and human rights.
We, Syrian Civil Society Organizations signatories of this statement, call on the EU and the European countries to fight the dangerous temptation of stopping the support to the local civil action in the areas free from the control of the regime and not to hide into a misleading announcement of “focusing of humanitarian aid”.
We call upon you to maintain and even to increase the support and the funding of the civil action in those areas beyond the humanitarian aid, as the needs and the aspirations of the Syrian people are themselves far beyond relief actions.
3. Alkawakibi Organization For Human Rights
4. Shaml Syrian Civil Society Coalition
5. Local Development and Small-Projects Support (LDSPS)
6. Kombanda kurdin serbuxin suriye
8. Syria Legal Network-NL
9. Syrian Center for Legal Stugies and Researches
10. Space of hope organization
11. Syrian engineers for construction and development
14. Syrian Center for Statistic and Reasersh
15. Kesh Malek Organization
16. Kurdich kommittee for human rights_ Observer
17. Fraternity Foundation for Human Rights-FFHR
22. Alkawakibi Organization For Human Rights
25. Humanitarian Restoration Hope
27. S.R.O (Syria Relief Organization)
28. Syria Civil Defense (White Helmets)
29. Sonbola Group for Education and Development
30. Alphabet for Education Development
32. Sadad Humanitarian Organization