Syria: engaging with local actors to increase humanitarian outreach (WP1384)

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Executive Summary

Syria has entered its fifth year of civil war and currently presents the world’s largest humanitarian crisis. With no resolution of the conflict in sight, humanitarian organisations are facing challenges that seriously hamper an effective humanitarian response.
International organisations have increasingly limited access due to restrictions imposed by either the government or armed groups in Syria. This gap has been filled by Syrian local organisations, using their connections and networks in the country to provide aid and protection to the population. However, these local groups also struggle to maintain their operations, in part due to the difficulty in accessing funds. The way in which humanitarian action is conducted, the lack of cooperation and trust between organisations, the impact of counter-terrorism legislation and international sanctions, as well as the lack of flexibility in funding need to change to enhance humanitarian action.

In order to confront these issues there needs to be a narrative centred on the Syrian population affected by the conflict, as well as genuine partnerships enabling local and international organisations to complement one another and work more effectively. Core, long term, flexible funding for Syrian organisations is vital in order for them not only to continue, but to strengthen their work. Appropriate training, adapted to their specific needs, would also enable local organisations to attain a more professional level, thereby meeting generally accepted professional standards.

Possible concrete measures include the creation of new umbrella frameworks or platforms among local Syrian and diaspora groups to provide information exchange, coordination and adequate training. These would bring together creative ways to look at funding, and promote joint advocacy and partnerships. Openness and commitment is crucial for the emergence of a renewed efficient aid model in Syria and functional ways for international and local groups to work together.


Syria has entered its fifth year of conflict with no end in sight. With an estimated 220,000 deaths, 7.6 million Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) and more than 3 million Syrians displaced to neighbouring countries1 , humanitarian action is needed more than ever. Since the beginning of the conflict, UN agencies and international NGOs (INGOs) have expanded their cooperation with local organisations (CSOs) that have developed structures to provide aid and assistance around and inside Syria. However, many local/regional organisations still work either loosely attached or completely independently from the formal system. The current situation is marked by a lack of understanding of each other’s roles and capabilities, but also by disagreements on objectives and methods. The question then is, where and how, can local and international organisations work together, what are the diverging opinions and when do they choose to work separately. How can local and international organisations cooperate efficiently together and within their own groups? What challenges do they face on a daily basis? What is their ability to provide humanitarian assistance?

Against this backdrop, the workshop « Syria: engaging with local actors to increase humanitarian outreach » aimed to provide an open dialogue between the donor community, international organisations and local/regional organisations. Indeed, each entity addresses only part of the approach to deliver aid into Syria, but none has found a comprehensive solution. This report provides a summary of discussions that took place during the workshop: it examines the challenges and gaps in the aid community’s ability to provide humanitarian assistance; the requirements and changes needed in order to better assist those in dire humanitarian need; and identifies certain operational models that might be better suited to the current crisis.