Beginning in March 2011, a group of protesters in the southern section of Syria sparked a nationwide opposition movement intent on removing President Bashar Al-Assad from power. The results have been largely tragic, as more than 7,500 people have been killed by Assad’s repressive and brutal regime; opposition fighters, restive towns, and even journalists have been targeted victims of an administration clinging desperately to power. Numerous countries and organizations have condemned Assad and his government, pressuring him to peacefully step down and put an end to violence; unfortunately, Assad has yet to show any signs of complying. Much of the recent Syria coverage has circled around the debate of whether foreign countries should directly intervene or at least provide arms for a severely undermanned opposition force. A separate yet crucial issue does not receive as much press: the humanitarian needs of Syrians embroiled in a war-torn nation.
In a conflict that is so violent and deadly, humanitarian relief is extremely important and integral in saving lives. Leading the charge in this critical area is the International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC) and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, forming a partnership in an effort to abate the humanitarian crisis in the region. The two work primarily to provide basic needs such as food and water to war ravaged areas, as well as to administer first aid to the injured. The Red Cross and Red Crescent groups have also initiated a series of daring rescue missions in areas of active fighting to rescue civilians and journalists.
The partnership has yielded some positive results. In some instances, workers have been able to deliver vital goods to some of the most war-ravaged areas of Syria, bringing much needed supplies to those in need. A number of their rescue efforts have proven fruitful as well. For example, injured British photojournalist Paul Conroy was heroically rescued from the conflict by aid workers and brought to safety in nearby Lebanon.
Though the Red Cross and Red Crescent’s triumphs have been welcome, they have regrettably faced numerous problems and failures. Syrian officials have been reluctant to allow humanitarian workers into the country and have even blocked aid in some cases. Additionally, many of the rescue efforts have failed, leading to high death tolls of both workers and innocent Syrians. To make matters worse, the Syrian Arab Red Crescent’s neutrality has been questioned: some believe that they are collaborating in some capacity with Assad’s regime. While this sentiment is not necessarily widespread, the distrust may hinder future efforts.
Luckily, the Red Cross and Red Crescent have some help in their uphill battle to assist those in need. Local Coordination Committees (LCC’s) in Syria have formed a cohesive network of small groups around the country that report on protests and human rights abuses, bringing awareness to pertinent issues. In addition, Avaaz, a global activist group, has set up numerous petitions pressuring Assad to end his repressive practices, and has even been involved in some on-the-ground missions. Finally, since Syria’s regime has broadly censored the media, an influx of citizen journalists have reported on the real happenings of the conflict, helping to determine where help is needed most.
Many difficult challenges remain. With its brutal regime and fragmented yet determined opposition, Syria seems destined for a bloody civil war in the near future. Countries such as Qatar and Saudi Arabia are calling for efforts to arm Syrian rebels, and a small contingent in the United States has called for airstrikes targeting Assad’s forces. Whatever path is ultimately taken, the conflict is likely to become even more violent, and even more deadly. While humanitarian aid has made a great impact so far, the international community must not forget about it as the conflict progresses— many lives depend on it.