Satellite phones and money transfers - Your Middle East met up with a member of the opposition movement outside Syria and got a unique glance at how activists coordinate themselves.
“If you look at CNN, Al Jazeera, BBC, Al Arabiya, in almost every report from Syria they refer to the LCCs as a source. These committees exist basically everywhere,” says Jaber Zain, a leading figure in the Swedish activist group Support the Revolution in Syria, which was founded last year and is becoming an increasingly important part of the international apparatus supporting the Syrian opposition.
The LCCs have created a system through which they can coordinate the intricate network of local opposition groups. Activists are assigned a particular area where they organize protests and other activities. They also quickly report when incidents occur. A constant flow of news and information is transmitted to a central command where the material is gathered, checked, verified and analyzed. If it is deemed newsworthy, it will ultimately end up on TV screens and in newspapers.
Satellite phones are crucial tools in the process. When an activist needs refilling, he or she sends a message to a communications central, which responds and ultimately “tops up” the phone’s account. These virtual meeting rooms are busy around the clock.
Support the Revolution in Syria and similar groups abroad provide support to the activists and suffering families inside Syria in the form of technical equipment, satellite phones, satellite Internet, basic provisions to survive the day, food, and medicines. But they are not involved in smuggling weapons. Focus lies on medicines and building field hospitals.
“Since the bombardment of entire cities and villages started, the situation has gotten much worse for a larger number of Syrians. We also have the problem that some people prefer to buy weapons, which means that we can no longer distribute money. As a result, we provide those affected with packages carrying basic provisions,” says Jaber Zain, seemingly worried about the future despite his and other groups’ effort from abroad.
Channeling funds into the country is very difficult, not least given that the bank sector in Syria is basically shut down. There are accounts – Mr Zain mentions one in France – which are used to collect contributions from around the world, money that is then smuggled into the country.
Jaber Zain is skeptical of the way larger aid organizations deal with the crisis, and also points a finger at the Swedish government.
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“The organization that we are part of does not have any middle hands. The Red Cross, on the other hand, has a lot of people who needs to get paid along the line. The Swedish government sent 56 million SEK (approximately 5 million Euro) last year to Syria. This is where I ask myself; where does that money go? Apparently, it’s distributed via various UN organs and the Red Cross – but who are they exactly? The Red Cross does not even exist in Syria”.
However, Mr. Zain points out that these organizations play a crucial role, and will continue to do so if the regime falls. Not just for supplying food and medicine, but also in terms of building a civil society. But he is critical of their static methods and how they spend money, as well as their contacts inside Syria, taking the example of The Red Cross sending ambulances to its sister organization the Red Half Moon.
“The chairman of the Syrian Red Half Moon is Al-Attar, a man who owns a lot of businesses close to the regime. We know that the security police has used ambulances to enter certain areas, we know that they have attacked ambulances. There has never been an issue with transportation to the hospitals, since when someone gets hurt they just throw them in a car. If you wait for the ambulance, they’ll die.”
Another problem is that activists do not want to be taken to the hospital as they risk ending up in the hands of the regime where torture and imprisonment awaits.
“What saves lives are not ambulances, but medicines, equipment and field hospitals. We need more of those. The second thing we need is more initiatives in neighboring countries. There are women who have been raped, children who needs rehabilitation from what they’ve experienced and people severely injured. If we could establish field hospitals in Turkey or Jordan, that would be very valuable."
In February, the LCCs distributed 2,500 food packages and built a field hospital in Al Rastan outside Homs. There are other examples too, but they are hardly enough. The LCC, and Zain points out that they are only one organization, would need as much as ten times the resources to have the desired effect.
One thing seems particularly important to Jaber Zain and his group of activists.
“When something good happens, we tell each other. We’re constantly building cases, which can benefit similar groups in other countries”.