As the world musters humanitarian aid and support for earthquake hit Turkiye, aid to Syria is coming in slow and inadequate. Around 33000 have died in Turkiye and Syria as I write. Reports say even as Turkiye is getting the major chunk of aid contributed by countries and international bodies, the same is only but trickling in sanction hit Syria. As the procedure goes all aid is disbursed and further distributed through government agencies. And so the question as to what help is actually reaching the rebel controlled areas in Syria, which has seen maximum damage from the trembler.
Syria is in war for 12 last years now because of which its infrastructure is far from robust. With the earthquake the Syrian govt has a lot of challenges ahead.
An appeal by the Syrian embassy in New Delhi on behalf of the Syrian government asks for donating liberally for the suffering Syrians in the aftermath of the earthquake that has killed thousands of people.
Excerpts of interaction with Ambassador of Syria to India Dr Bassam Alkhatib:
1. What was the immediate response of your govt and here at the embassy in the aftermath of the devastating earthquake?
In Syria President Bashar Ul Assad called a conference of high officials immediately after the tragedy struck to address the process of handling the earthquake. Our Foreign minister held conference with all foreign organisations. A road map of Syrian govt with all representatives was prepared. All embassies around the world were instructed to work 24 hrs to work for people of Syria in all means possible. I contacted the high officials in the Indian govt and friends in society. Inquiries were received from the PM Narendra Modi and Foreign minister Jai Shankar for human assistance. Politically speaking Indian govt has proved the same honest good friend of ours in pushing in the direction of boosting assistance to Syria. At the embassy the procedures that have been taken are firstly we are working around the clock to receive donations from anyone, any authority or any person in India, giving officially a receipt with an official stamp.
Secondly we have facilitated Kotak bank to receive donation from Indian entities. But we were informed from the bank that for technical reasons they are not able to process it as they need more approvals and its a question of time when this account will be reactivated. We made contacts with our brothers in the foreign ministry to look into this question. Many Indians called us in this regard but we had to apologize to them.
Thirdly we are ready to receive any donation working round the clock that helps people like medicines, ready made food, powder food for children, medical equipments. Many people are still under ruins of hospitals and their homes. There is no power. We will not ask more.
2. Is the aid reaching rebel areas.
We are sending assistance for the affected regions in Syria under the requisite control since the beginning of the crisis. Those whom you call rebels I call foreign armed groups. Answering indirectly, govt in Syria is handling the situation of all Syrians. But when we talk of such areas under control of armed groups financed by some countries, it serves the interests and plans of other countries. Those countries who have managed to smuggle and deliver all kinds of weapons to those areas I am quite sure they can participate to deliver the right thing, the humanitarian assistance, in such crisis.
It is well known that one nation around the world is controlling the international media and they can paint any picture they intend to. In a village called Al Assaliya journalists came to know the reality. Its not the Syrian govt who closed gates & borders for assistance. Repeating, those who are politically speaking behind the crisis in India if they are honest they should lift sanctions in our country. The sanctions that affected Syrian people, that prohibited some countries to send medicines, electrical equipments, even food. We are not allowed to import anything for our people. The Foreign minister of Syria had a conference with all reps of United Nations. So we appeal to find a way with UN because we have already started better cooperation with them.
3. How can Indians help if the bank account for donations is not operative?
As the account is not operative as yet we are not depending on one option. First choice was this bank. As India is not a small country, for those who live far & cannot come to donate, it would be helpful. This account is frozen for some time. Second alternative, there is a committee of all people at the embassy responsible for receiving personal donation and giving receipt. Thirdly all other kinds of humanitarian assistance like medicines, food, tents, clothes, eqipments are welcome. If any one knows any official in the MEA or banks help us to make consequences sooner. But we insist that it is time for people to receive donations. Its in the hands of MEA & the banks. We have sent official notes in this regard to the ministry & waiting for their response. We hope it will not be late.
4. What is the latest condition in Syria as the tragedies after the quake unfold?
In such catastrophes no one can tell the exact numbers of casualties. I come from the city of Ladakiya, the situation is bad. Tens of thousands of causalities. There is lack of medicines & other things but no lack of will in our people to keep the situation as best as possible. The death toll is going up. We will keep up our efforts to handle the situation but we will keep our expectation from our brothers & friends like India to be with us.
5. How do they plan to counter sanctions…
We appeal to please lift the sanctions. Sending message to all Indian brothers to join us in our call to ask to lift these sanctions of America and its European partners. They are behind the suffering of the people.
6. How long will the recovery take place.
Recovery process depends on many factors. Syria is one of the greatest nations in the world. We have been there for at least 10,000 yrs. We are fighting sanctions but actually its their problem, they imposed them on us & they are delaying the process of normalization of life.
7. Catastrophe in Syria is beyond the capacity of Syrians to handle and cope with the challenges. We see most of the aids going to Turkiye, Syria receiving less aid. Why?
Such political plans in the region are efforts to control the world, some countries are worried, some afraid. In 2003 Colin Powel, talked about nuclear & chemical weapons of Iraq. The same year he came to Damascus & met Syrian officials. He said I have list, you either follow or you are an enemy. Syria refused to comply. US continued to treat Syria as enemy so when I talk about sanctions its the politics of US. Our request is to be with us to lift such sanctions immediately.