March 22, 2023 | Flash Brief

Nations Pledge $1 Billion of Post-Quake Assistance for Syria Despite History of Aid Theft

March 22, 2023 | Flash Brief

Nations Pledge $1 Billion of Post-Quake Assistance for Syria Despite History of Aid Theft

Latest Developments

At a conference on Monday in Brussels, donor states pledged an additional $1 billion of humanitarian aid to help Syrians recover from a February 6 earthquake that took thousands of lives. Western governments have given tens of billions of dollars of assistance — delivered mainly by the United Nations (UN) — since the country’s civil war broke out more than 12 years ago.

In remarks announcing their pledges, delegates to the conference skirted the question of whether the Damascus regime would divert or steal additional aid, as it has since assistance began flowing in the first months of the war. Neither of the conference’s hosts — European Commission President Ursula Van Der Leyen and Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson — addressed the issue of theft in their remarks. Nor did the American representative from the U.S. Agency for International Development, Sarah Charles.

Expert Analysis

“Generosity without accountability is self-defeating. The wholesale theft of aid empowers the Assad regime and enables further atrocities. Evidence of this theft piles up year after year, yet U.S. and European leaders refuse to admit in public that so much of their assistance benefits a criminal regime rather than its victims. They also hesitate to criticize UN complicity, even though the body’s persistent deference to Assad facilitates the diversion of aid. A quiet push for reform within the UN has clearly failed. Now is the time for donor states to make clear that generosity and accountability must go hand in hand.” — David Adesnik, FDD Senior Fellow and Director of Research

Aid Stolen in Days After Quake

After the February earthquake, reports emerged within days — frequently on social media — of government personnel diverting aid or manipulating relief efforts in other ways. In one video, a young woman narrates her inspection of goods for sale at an outdoor market in Damascus, filming labels that show which products derived from aid shipments. In another clip, an employee of the Kurdish Red Crescent describes how Syrian officials demanded her team surrender half the aid it sought to bring into a part of Aleppo under the control of the Bashar al-Assad regime.

Congress Concerned About Theft

In a resolution passed last month by a vote of 412-2 that expressed solidarity with the earthquake’s victims, the House of Representatives called for “an increased oversight mechanism to ensure that United States-funded assistance is not diverted for the benefit of the Assad regime.” Last year, senior lawmakers from both parties sent a letter to the president asking him to present a strategy for blocking the wholesale theft of aid. The letter specifically cited the example of Assad’s manipulation of official exchange rates to take $100 million of UN aid money for himself.

A New Strategy for Preventing Diversion of Aid

Last week, FDD published “A Strategy to End the Systematic Theft of Humanitarian Aid in Syria.” This memo lays out specific, plausible steps the president, Congress, and U.S. allies can take to reform the aid process. The cornerstone for such an effort must be a commitment by donor states to speak candidly about the challenges and employ their leverage as donors to overhaul the way the UN conducts humanitarian operations.

Related Analysis

A Strategy to End the Systematic Theft of Humanitarian Aid in Syria,” by David Adesnik

UN Aid Chief Apologizes for Failure to Deliver in Northwest Syria,” FDD Flash Brief

The UN Has Now Spent $81.6 Million at the Four Seasons Damascus,” by David Adesnik


International Organizations Sanctions and Illicit Finance Syria