Syria: donors must pay attention to building social cohesion and reinforcing the role of Syrian actors in all operations

Key note speaker Ms. Helen Clark (on the left) emphasized the importance of social cohesion and supporting the Syrian’s own plans and actors in Helsinki on January 23, in an event organised by civil society organisations . In the middle Mr. Omar Abdulaziz Hallaj (Common Space Initiative) and on the right Mr. Sami Lahdensuo (CMI). Photo: Ville Nykänen.
Key note speaker Ms. Helen Clark (on the left) emphasized the importance of social cohesion and supporting the Syrian’s own plans and actors in Helsinki on January 23, in an event organised by civil society organisations . In the middle Mr. Omar Abdulaziz Hallaj (Common Space Initiative) and on the right Mr. Sami Lahdensuo (CMI). Photo: Ville Nykänen.

The war in Syria will soon be entering it seventh year. In order for the international community to best support the resilience of the Syrian people in the midst of the conflict, it is crucial that attention is paid to social cohesion and supporting the Syrian’s own plans and actors. This was the main message of seven civil society organisations at the 23 January conference titled ‘How to build bottom-up community resilience in Syria?’ The event took place in connection with an international conference on Syria hosted by Finland on 24 January, where the United Nations will announce its plans for Syria concerning humanitarian aid and refugees.

“Strengthening the social cohesion of the Syrian people should be part of all aid in Syria. There is a need for common spaces where all Syrians can work together regardless of what groups they belong to. There is a need for cooperation between Syrian cities. At urban level there must be work with both local communities and internally displaced persons,” said Eva Zidan from Syria, coordinator at the civil society organisation COSV (Coordinamento delle Organizzazzione per il Servizio Volontario of Italy) in Syria.

The conference also pointed out that the international community and donor countries have furthered the rupture of Syria’s social cohesion by supporting only particular local actors. Another problem is that Syrians have not been included enough in planning and implementing humanitarian assistance. The international community has talked about Syrians but not with Syrians themselves. Decisions have been made on a top-down basis, without taking account of local level perspectives. And yet Syrians know best about local problems and how to solve them.

Syria Crisis Policy and Campaigns Advisor Alexandra Saieh from Oxfam said, “Women are taking on additional responsibilities but they’re still the least consulted. Women’s perspectives must be integrated for bottom up community resilience. In addition, donors and international organizations should scale up long term, flexible funding directly to local civil society from Syria, so that they can plan for and own the future.”

Zedoun Alzoubi, the CEO of UOSSM (Union of Medical Care and Relief Organisations), which carries out humanitarian work in Syria stressed the need for cooperation between civil society and local governance institutions: “Local cooperation between civil society locally and local administrative structures can weaken the influence of militias and combat radicalisation.”

The conference also discussed the importance of education and livelihood in ensuring that Syrian resilience and reconstruction succeeds.

The conference was organised by the Crisis Management Initiative, Felm, Fida International, Finn Church Aid, Kehys – The Finnish NGDO Platform to the EU, Kepa and Save the Children Finland.

Last week, Finnish CSOs issued a statement in which they called on the UN to involve Syrian local communities, civil society and local government in all operations conducted in Syria. In recent days, more signatories have endorsed the statement, and it has now been signed by 28 civil society organisations.

Statement by Finnish CSOs and list of signatories

Further information:
• Crisis Management Initiative (CMI): Maruan El-Krekshi, Programme Director for Middle East and North Africa, maruan.elkrekshi@cmi.fi, +358 40 747 4530.
• Felm: Minna Saarnivaara, Syria Initiative Project Manager, minna.saarnivaara@felm.org, +358 50 517 8396.
• Fida International: Ismo Salerto, Humanitarian Aid Manager, ismo.salerto@fida.info, +358 40 829 2206.
• Finn Church Aid: Tomi Järvinen, Director of International Cooperation, tomi.jarvinen@kirkonulkomaanapu.fi +358 40 641 8209.
• Kehys – The Finnish NGDO Platform to the EU: Rilli Lappalainen, Secretary General, rilli.lappalainen@kehys.fi, +358 50 561 3456.
• Kepa: Outi Hakkarainen, Policy Adviser, outi.hakkarainen@kepa.fi, +358 50 317 6728.
• Save the Children Finland: Sanna Vesikansa, Advocacy and Policy Adviser, sanna.vesikansa@pelastakaalapset.fi +358 50 433 1382.

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