By Yarub Dali and Justin Clark
HOMS: Smugglers and opportunists are selling humanitarian aid on the black market in opposition-held Homs amidst a surplus of supplies in government-held areas, a former Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC) employee and residents of the regime-encircled northern Homs countryside tell the Syrian Voice.
Cut off from the rest of the province, besieged opposition-held enclaves in the countryside north of Homs city rely on irregular aid shipments for access to food, medicine and other basic goods.
As in other regime-encircled areas, the Syrian government must grant permission for any deliveries of humanitarian aid to northern Homs. The deliveries are rarely approved, and when the aid trucks do arrive, they are often missing crucial items such as baby formula and animal protein.
But even when humanitarian actors are denied access, the aid can still reach besieged areas like northern Homs—for a price.
Hamdan as-Saleh, a grocery store owner in the northern Homs town of Rastan regularly stocks his shelves with smuggled humanitarian aid marked with a UN “not for sale” label.
As-Saleh tells the Syrian Voice that regime loyalists in government-held Homs province have “no need for surplus aid,” leading some to accept the aid delivered by the Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC) and other aid groups and sell it to smugglers.
The smugglers then bribe their way through regime and opposition checkpoints to besieged areas of Homs, selling the supplies at a profit despite being earmarked as free aid.
Abdullah Biraqdar is a former SARC official who worked in aid distribution in Homs before being accused by the regime of “working with rebels” and fleeing to Germany.
Biraqdar tells the Syrian Voice that administrators within SARC control who the organization employs and where it distributes aid, often sending excess supplies to areas that don’t require them.
“The Red Crescent in Homs distributes humanitarian aid each month to the city itself as well as the southern and western countryside – areas that aren’t bombed and still have decent infrastructure” says Biraqder.
Syrians in government areas, says Biraqdar live a “relatively stable life” where goods can be bought for reasonable prices relative to besieged rebel-held territory.
For those with a stable job – especially government employees – selling surplus aid is one way to pad one’s income amid skyrocketing inflation.
The Syrian Voice reached out to SARC officials in Damascus and Homs for this article but did not receive a reply.