Webcast Recap

Marianne Gasser, the Outgoing Head of Delegation for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Syria, discussed the conflict in Syria, recounting her experiences over the last two years working to alleviate the growing humanitarian crisis in the country.

On May 22, the Middle East Program hosted a meeting, “Syria’s Humanitarian Crisis: A Briefing by Marianne Gasser.” Haleh Esfandiari, Director of the Middle East Program at the Woodrow Wilson Center moderated the event.

In the past two years, Gasser noted a steady deterioration in the conditions in Syria as the conflict has escalated, making its way into major city centers, including parts of Damascus and Aleppo. According to Gasser, every family in Syria, regardless of its political or sectarian affiliation, is affected by the conflict. Many Syrians have witnessed their relatives being kidnapped, killed, or imprisoned. Entire regions of the country are ravaged beyond immediate repair, which Gasser said will take years to reconstruct.

Gasser outlined the evolution of the ICRC’s role in Syria. Since 1967, the ICRC took on the role of facilitating the safe transfer of people from the Golan Heights into Syria. It was not until March of 2011, when peaceful protests began to be violently repressed, that the ICRC was forced to reevaluate its operations inside the country. Within a matter of a few months, it became clear that a military conflict was developing, and the ICRC started to provide humanitarian relief to affected regions. Gasser also discussed their work with the Syrian Arab Red Crescent in the country.

By early 2012, most governorates in Syria were embroiled in the conflict, with tens of thousands of Syrians forced to relocate inside and outside of the country. Working to alleviate this growing crisis, the ICRC increased its aid to the Syrian people, providing much needed food parcels, medical materials and equipment, and essential household items. Gasser noted the ICRC doubled its assistance last year, yet the supplies were not sufficient to cover the needs of the whole country.

According to Gasser, one of the ICRC’s greatest challenges in Syria will be to maintain the organization’s access to provide aid to affected regions, due to the growing number of armed groups who are taking over different parts of the country. She recounted one instance in which her trip from Damascus to Aleppo was delayed because her envoy was stopped by more than 30 different groups. She also noted the difficulties in attempting to rebuild a country with an economy that has been completely devastated. Agricultural and industrial production has come to a halt, which has placed a greater strain on an already vulnerable population.

In closing, Gasser projected that the conflict will not end until a political solution is made. All actors in the conflict are becoming increasingly radicalized, and external actors will continue to escalate the conflict for their own strategic interests. However, Gasser warned that if the fighting continues, it will have dire consequences not only for the Syrian people but also for neighboring countries as well.

By Darya Razavi, Middle East Program