A senior United Nations (UN) official yesterday rejected claims that the organisation is secretly working with and propping up the regime of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad by operating and conducting missions within its territory.
Amin Awad, director of the Middle East and North Africa bureau at the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), came under fire for not condemning the awarding of contracts to close associates of Al-Assad, and particularly criticism by academics that those same associates from the president’s inner circle attained large sums due to the fact that the government prevents aid sent to the country from reaching parts of the population in opposition-held areas.
Speaking in an interview with the Abu Dhabi-based newspaper the National, Awad insisted that “I reject the argument that the UN is working with cronies of one regime or another.” He stressed upon the neutrality of the UN’s aid to refugees and the impossibility of regulating every operational recipient, saying: “For us it is secondary who is who. I do not have a mechanism where we comb every single contract to see do you have one, 10 or 90 per cent connection with the regime or not. We have to be realistic.”
The UN’s exact operational details are rarely ever fully revealed, but in 2016 a report was released by Dr Reinoud Leenders, a Reader of International Relations and War Studies at King’s College London at the time, which showed that the UNHCR provided over $7.7 million to the Syrian Trust Charity – run by Al-Assad’s wife Asma, who is on the list of United States (US) and European Union (EU) sanctions.
Published in collaboration with the Guardian newspaper, the report stated that other members of Al-Assad’s inner circle such as his billionaire cousin and officials in the defence and agricultural ministries were receiving aid from various other UN agencies at a time in which the regime was conducting some of its most brutal offences and arrests.
The provision of the aid was due to a large number of pro-Assad individuals across many UN agencies who diverted the attention away from the values of the recipients and towards the legality of UN operations. The funding was then successful due to a culture of discouragement of questioning UN operations and missions within the EU, which prevented member states from looking into the matter and speaking out.
Throughout the eight-year-long civil war in Syria, the tracking of UN funds and those by other smaller organisations and charities has proved extremely difficult due to the tight hold that the Assad regime has on its territories and the areas surrounding it, in which the entry and exit of materials, supplies and people is strictly monitored by the regime.
Awad did not reveal how much the UNHCR spends in areas controlled by the regime, but insisted that the contracts covered basic needs such as sanitation, schooling and rehabilitation, all subject “to very fair, transparent bidding procedures as prescribed by the UN in New York.”