Communicating about Syria – A humanitarian perspective

October 11, 2012

By Sally Ashley-Cound

Thumbnail image for Frontline Club discussion, Communicating about Syria

The conflict and humanitarian issues Syria faces is at the forefront of many peoples minds at the moment, this was reflected by the full house that gathered at the Frontline Club’s panel discussion, Communicating about Syria – A humanitarian perspective on 10th October.

Lindsey Hilsum, Channel 4 News’ International Editor chaired a panel which included Hicham Hassan from the International Commitee of the Red Cross¬†(ICRC); Lyse Doucet, BBC Chief International Correspondent; Ben Parker, head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian affairs (OCHA); and Fadi Haddad from the Mosaic Initiative for Syria.

Hilsum started things off by asking Doucet to set out the current situation in Syria, where over a million people are now displaced within the country, 50% of which are children.

There can be no doubt that when it comes especially to war we [journalists] take the side of the people. And sadly it’s ugly terrible bloody wars that drag on there’s a lot of people that are affected and Syria is no different…And of all those people that are stuck in the middle one of the other sad realities of the Syrian conflict is that most of them are children.

Parker, who was only in London by coincidence on a break from his post in Syria as head of OCHA then spoke about how the problems in Syria are unlike any he has faced before.

I’ve never in my career spoken less to journalists. It’s a very unusual situation; aid agencies want to talk to the media for three things: 1. Cash. 2. To make sure that the attention doesn’t go away, and 3. We also have advocacy, in the sense that we want the people with power to take a certain course of action. In Syria, none of these three really work. In terms of the course of action, nobody has the answer. And what is the course of action? Stop the violence? ok…We’re heading into unknown territory.

There’s normally criticisms that we’re too tight with journalists… but here I can’t help you [journalists] at all, I can say maybe you should check out that school, but you being associated with me makes your job even harder. The state of Syria feels that the humanitarian people need to be watched just as much as the journalists because they have the potential to delegitimise and confuse and be instrumentalised by hostile forces.

Hassan who is the Middle East spokesperson for the International Commitee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said that the humanitarian aid is not there to solve the problems in Syria:

A very good friend of mine said: “The solution in Syria is not humanitarian because the problem in the first place is not humanitarian; it is political so don’t you think you guys are there to solve the problems.” It is true, we are not there to solve the problem, humanitarian aid is just there to push the limit a bit more and a bit more and a bit more.

Haddad from the Mosaic Initiative for Syria who works directly with human rights defenders and NGOs inside Syria and neighboring countries, gave some insight into how he gets supplies to people in Syria by foot through Turkey, but how even that is getting more difficult.

I’ve been targeted now more than the Free Syrian Army, if they know that there’s a field hospital in a place, they will try to shut it straight away. It’s getting more stressful.

When you’re dealing with these groups you need a good relationship with the local community and this is where journalists have to help us, as they go inside they know these communities so our mission is to work in partnership with them and to work like a middle agent between the international NGOs and the people on the ground.

Melissa Flemming, chief spokesperson for the UN High Commission of Refugees (UNHCR) was in the audience and Hilsum asked her to give her take on the situation. She finished with a final thought about the displaced people of Syria, before the discussion was opened to questions from the audience.

They’ve all lost family and they’ve all got horrendous stories to tell and they’re living in places like Lazatri camp which is inhospitable because of the landscape…It would be like any one of you who is used to living in an apartment having a high standard of living, and from one day to the next having to pick up everything probably having lost a lot and run for your lives across the border and try to make a life for yourself in a tent.

Listen to Lyse Doucet talk about the current state of affairs in Syria:

Listen to Lindsey Hilsum talk about the different kinds of people who have been caught up in the Syrian conflict:

Listen to Fadi Haddad talk about the problems he faces when getting aid to the people who most need it in Syria, he also tells the story of one man he couldn’t get aid to quick enough:

Watch the full event here:



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