US officials say they are working to gain greater access for humanitarian assistance to the Syrian people, and while the regime has recently allowed aid into parts of the country previously impassable, more still needs to be done.
“We think they have calculated that they have to pacify parts of the country by letting some aid go through,” said Anne Richard, assistant secretary of state.
However, she said that many displaced people remain unreachable because of the Syrian government and militia checkpoints.
Nancy Lindborg, the USAID Assistant Administrator for Democracy, Conflict, and Humanitarian Assistance explained the predicament facing relief organisations.
“Bottom line,” she said, “there hasn’t been enough, and we need to collectively, as an international community, press for more access.”
Richard and Lindborg, recently returned from a trip to Jordan, Turkey, and Kuwait with Robert Ford, the US Ambassador to Syria.
The delegation, that met with the Syrian opposition and toured refugee camps there found that almost 80 percent of all refugees were women and children.
“This is a crisis of enormous proportions. We are moving aggressively to provide additional assistance. We call on other countries to do the same,” Lindborg said after the visit.
Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon, and Iraq now house almost 800,000 Syrian refugees according to state department officials. They say there has been an increase in the number of people fleeing the country in the last two months.
More than half of the $365m pledged by the US to assist Syria, is for people inside Syria.
Among the assistance provided by the US is clean water, food and medical care.
Aid distribution policy
However, the United Nations and various NGOs which distribute aid in the country face a challenge in distributing US aid. They are not able to distribute US marked aid.
The US administration recently came under criticism for this decision from a group of senators that met with members of the Syrian opposition.
Of further contention is the channel on distribution. While officials say they do not distribute aid through the Syrian opposition, with Richard saying that the opposition is “not built as an organisation to deliver aid”, Senator Chris Coons feels that this decision needs to be changed.
Coon said that aid was “going through international aid agencies and being distributed out of Damascus, rather than in ways that strengthen the credibility and the reach and effectiveness of the Syrian opposition council.”
But Richard responded by saying that they were still in discussions with the opposition about where the aid needs to go.
“Aid is supposed to be delivered not based on one’s political beliefs or which side one’s picking in a war or which faction one belongs to, but instead based on need,” he said.
“Their assessment, their networks are very important to us, so we want to work with them.”