Briefing note

HARD LESSONS - Delivering assistance in government-held areas of Syria

Published 15. Jul 2020
Delivering a principled humanitarian response in Syria from Damascus is a continuous challenge. There are numerous barriers to engaging with and responding to the needs of conflict-affected Syrians. This paper explores the lessons learned by the Norwegian Refugee Council and Oxfam in more than ten years of combined operational experience from Damascus which can inform and improve the overall aid response in Syria.

Syria is one of the most difficult contexts in the world in which to deliver principled humanitarian assistance. Oxfam and the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) are among more than two dozen international non-government organizations (INGOs) registered in Damascus, since 2013 and 2015 respectively, navigating this context and responding to Syrians’ humanitarian needs. During this time, several large-scale military offensives have led to substantial shifts in control of territory, which has in turn altered the nature of the humanitarian response.

While there remain several challenges in delivering aid in Syria, this paper explores how negotiation and dialogue can open up quality access for INGOs so that they can reach the people most in need of assistance.

Based on their experience in this context and drawing on 26 interviews with government, United Nations (UN) and non-government organization (NGO) officials involved in aid delivery from Damascus, Oxfam and NRC have identified five barriers to delivering quality aid:

• the need to navigate bureaucratic obstacles and impediments;
• the difficulties in negotiating certain types of programme activities which are more heavily scrutinized by the government;
• the limited opportunities for partnership with Syrian NGOs;
• the limits to engagement with affected communities; and
• difficulties in securing funds to quickly scale up aid delivery when access does open up.

Download the joint briefing paper: