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Sponsored: A striking corporate social responsibility trend at G20
Mortar shells have been found abandoned at Syria’s Kobane border crossing. Photograph: Osama Faisal/AFP/Getty Images
Help is finally here for the thousands of refugees who have fled the war and been trapped in Syria’s craggy hills, often abandoned by aid agencies and government agencies.
They have been getting it not from large-scale cross-border missions but from on-the-ground humanitarian non-governmental organisations, who are doing far more to ensure the survival of Syrian civilians caught in the conflict.
The non-governmental groups are known as maal, or bridges, and are the mainstay of a business-run approach known as philanthropy.
They are among the most visible winners in the wider refugee response. International aid groups working with International Medical Corps, Caritas, ICRC, International Rescue Committee, Médecins Sans Frontières, WFP, UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR, and a host of others are a varied bunch.
In fact, non-government aid groups are the most visible of the various relief efforts, which have struggled to resettle the hundreds of thousands of refugees and internally displaced people who have fled Syria in the last five years.
Independent aid groups are popping up all over the world, which is fantastic. The numbers themselves, however, show the deep fragmentation and commercialisation of humanitarian aid as states try to get money and credibility from new and often opaque and politically motivated groups, rather than the NGO community.
They provide a welcome but very visible counterpoint to some of the countries that are trying to privatise humanitarian organisations. Some of the Saudi/Omani royals are, for example, involved in trying to take control of Médecins Sans Frontières, which is based in Geneva and operates many of its operations from the UK.
Donors aren’t holding anyone to account. Of course it takes many forms, but most of the time they are not transparent about how the money is spent and how these organisations operate.
At the Toronto summit of the G20, the Canadian prime minister, Justin Trudeau, welcomed the growing business at trying to provide migrants and refugees with some measure of dignity, with links to labour unions, by offering to seed the visa-free travel zone around Doha, the Middle East capital.
Stratfor, a private intelligence company which has its offices in Austin, has more or less single-handedly provided such a resource through reports on the network of foreign Islamic groups that have found their way to Syria – including Hezbollah, Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Iranian-backed insurgent groups, as well as explicitly, ideologically, jihadist organisations.
The findings of the journalistic London Review of Books have found it more questionable whether Stratfor has carried out an effective analysis. There is little sense, for example, that its findings are independent from the policymakers who are trying to turn the tide of the conflict against ISIS, or the fact that at least one of the groups, the Lebanese-based al-Manar TV, has been used by Hezbollah to generate war coverage.