LEADERS of Australia’s Syrian community have urged Prime Minister Julia Gillard to ensure that Australian aid does not contribute to propping up the administration of President Bashar al-Assad.
Australia has provided over $20 million in humanitarian aid to Syria since civil conflict broke out in the Middle Eastern nation in 2011. The death toll of the Syrian conflict has recently topped 94 000, with over two million citizens displaced by fighting between government forces and rebels opposing al-Assad’s oppressive regime.
Nasser Farjami of the Australian Syrian Association said that the Australian government should be wary of providing humanitarian aid to Syria via the United Nations, suggesting that only a small proportion of aid provided in this way actually makes it to the people that need it most.
Mr Farjami said: “Of every million sent to Syria via the United Nations, only about one-tenth reaches the civilian people in need. We are very grateful that the Australian government has given its support, but the aid needs to be given directly to the people because when it goes to Syria via the UN, money goes to the Assad regime. These atrocities are going on and people on the ground in Syria don’t necessarily see any of the money coming from Australia to help.”
The Australian Syrian Association have responded to the humanitarian crisis in Syria with a food and clothing collection, which the organisation’s director Zahir Sibai has sent directly to trusted family associates in Syria to distribute. Mr Sibai has said he will petition the Australian government to transfer aid directly into the Syrian community in an effort to avoid potentially corrupt officials within the al-Assad regime.
The claims that Australian aid to Syria could be being used to support the al-Assad regime comes a day after British Prime Minister David Cameron announced that his government would double the non-lethal military aid it has been providing to anti-government rebels. He confirmed that an additional $15.45 million (AUD) would be given to rebels, while more than $45 million (AUD) would be spent on humanitarian assistance.
Mr Cameron said: “There will be no political progress unless the opposition is able to withstand the onslaught and put pressure on Assad so he knows there is no military victory. We will double non-lethal support to the Syrian opposition in the coming year. Armoured vehicles, body armour and power generators are about to be shipped. Syria’s history is being written in the blood of her people, and it is happening on our watch. The world urgently needs to come together to bring the killing to an end.”
Syria’s civil unrest began as a part of the Arab Spring movement of 2011, in which citizens across the Middle East campaigned for increased civil rights and transparent government. The al-Assad government responded to these protests with force, prompting world leaders to impose sanctions on the Syrian government. In July last year the International Committee of the Red Cross officially declared Syria to be in a state of civil war.