Activist says international aid not always reaching Syrian refugees

Rouba Mhaissen calls for effective monitoring of international aid to Syrian refugees

Hind Mustafa

Published: Updated:

The distribution of international humanitarian aid for Syrian refugees needs effective monitoring to make sure it reaches those in need, the founder of a grassroots group working with the Syrian refugees in Lebanon told Al Arabiya News on Monday.

“There is a lack of transparency between countries donating millions and billions, and the beneficiaries who have to go through a hundred field assessment to get one food basket which costs $50,” said Rouba Mhaissen, the Syrian-Lebanese founder and director of Sawa for Development and Aid.

Mhaissen called for “a network of grassroots initiatives that should be there when decisions concerning Syria are done … to monitor donors’ money, from the receiving end.”

Large sums of money announced as donations for Syria are not always “seen put in place on field,” she added.

During a World Economic Forum (WEF) panel discussion on the humanitarian crisis in Syria last week, Mhaissen announced the launch of SAWA for Syria: Global Campaign for Action, which she said will take “real” steps to helping Syrian refugees.

Through the new movement, “we will try as much as we can to link straight ahead the people who have something to offer with the people who need it… rather than having a hundred intermediaries,” Mhaissen said.

“International NGOs are not playing this role; so we might as well,” she said. “We cannot just stand and look at a whole generation slipping away, dying of hunger, without education and with no hope for the future.”

The top priority for Mhaissen’s new call for action is to build an “international lobby” in cooperation with human rights activists that will “push the U.N. Security Council to do something.”

Long-term goals

A Longer-term goal for the new initiative is to “empower the Syrians through education, project development and providing work opportunities for the youth and for the children.”

“Now is the time to start thinking strategically about Syria, the Syrian youth, and how to empower the Syrians today and give them ownership of their own future,” she explained.

Mhaissen said she received increasing number of requests from people interested in joining her campaign. “My email is already flooding,” she said.

The new call for action will “most probably be coordinated by SAWA, but will be a platform for all other NGOs. It will not be monopolized by SAWA, as it is not a single actor, but a body of solidarity group,” she explained.

SAWA for Development and Aid is a grassroots initiative founded in December 2011. The active initiative caters for emergency relief for the Syrian refugees, such as providing shelter, blankets and food baskets, among other necessities, as well as providing informal education and workshops for women, according to its founder.

SAWA operates mainly in the Lebanese area of the Bekaa. “The main concentration of the refugees in Lebanon is in the Bekaa, around 50 percent,” said Mhaissen, explaining that Lebanon hosts around two million Syrian refugees, which are not all registered, according to government estimates.

The U.N. Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said over 890,000 refugees are in Lebanon, making up the largest refugee community.
During her work with SAWA, Mhaissen lived in the camps of Bekaa for a year and a half, and she found “amazing talents” among the refugees.

“We are now doing a small developmental project… trying to locate talents in the camps and helping them start becoming independent by getting them funds to be able to start their own projects,” she said.

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