What’s the magic word? Humanitarian access and local organisations in Syria

Working and discussion papers
March 2017
Eva Svoboda and Saleem Haddad

The conflict in Syria is nearing the end of its sixth year, and prospects for a political transition, let alone peace, remain elusive. Currently, 13.5 million Syrians are in need of humanitarian assistance, 4.8 million have fled the country and 6.3 million are internally displaced.

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. Much of the debate on access has focused on the ‘formal’ system (the United Nations, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), international non-governmental organisations). This is understandable given the volume, experience and specific mandates and missions of the individual entities that make up this system. At the same time, however, the conflict has brought to the fore the role of local organisations, 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.

This research looks at how different local organisations address access challenges, what strategies they use and how they deal with ethical and operational dilemmas.