By Waseem Shamdeen and Justin Clark
LATAKIA: Muhammad, originally from the central Syrian city of Homs, bought a United Nations-donated tent for 25,000 Syrian pounds (approximately $50) after fleeing his home city for a displaced persons camp on Turkish-Syrian border.
Like other internally displaced Syrians, Muhammad knows that these tents and other forms of humanitarian aid are meant to be free. Yet insufficient supplies combined with corruption amongst aid groups has built a thriving black market for humanitarian aid in Syria’s north.
“The illegal tent market is a result of rampant corruption,” says Yaman Shakr, director of the al-Farouq camp located on the Syrian border with Turkey. “The corruption is everywhere from securing the tents to getting them to camps and displaced people.”
Dr. Rami Habib, director of the Salma Hospital in Latakia’s countryside, tells the Syrian Voice that aid groups, camp administrators and even aid workers themselves contribute to the black market, especially the sale of tents.
Displaced Syrians in northern Syrian sometimes wait months to receive free tents from humanitarian groups – if they come at all. With winter approaching, and temperatures beginning to decline, many Syrians are opting to purchase tents from corrupt aid workers operating on the black market.
Amer Qassmo, a displaced Syrian living in rural Latakia who lives with all seven members of his family in a single tent, asked numerous aid groups for an additional tent. But it was no use. He eventually bought a tent for SP13,000 (approximately $25) on the black market.
There’s no one policing the area or trying to curb the black market, Dr. Habib tells the Syrian Voice. “These shortcomings primarily impact the displaced Syrians themselves.”
Dr. Habib estimates that with proper oversight on the procurement and distribution of tents, the black market for aid could be “80 percent eradicated.”
But, despite the optimism of Dr. Habib and others, the corridor along the Turkish-Syrian border is now home to several hundred thousand displaced Syrians fleeing the violence that has gripped much of the country. Coupled with a shortage of humanitarian aid, fixing the issue could be much more complicated.
Mustafa Joulda of the Istanbul-based IHH Organization, a humanitarian aid group operating inside Syria, warns that “no tents will be sent to Syria this year after the UN-sponsored IFAD (International Fund for Agriculture and Development) stopped providing them.”
With camps and aid groups unable to meet the needs of thousands of displaced Syrians, it’s likely that the coming days will see the black market for tents grow, says Shakr.
“The al-Farouq camp has about 1600 families and 1400 tents, but only 500 of those provide adequate shelter.”