Critics fear that the United Nations aid programme to Syria is on the verge of being compromised as the organization has awarded contracts worth tens of millions of dollars to the people closely associated with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad at the whim of the Damascus Government. According to the Guardian, businessmen whose companies are under US and EU sanctions have been paid substantial sums by the UN mission, as have government departments and charities – including the one set up by President’s wife Asma al-Assad and another by his close associate Rami Makhlouf.
Critics believe that aid is being prioritised in government-held areas and argue that the UN money is effectively helping to prop up a regime responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of its own citizens.
An analysis shows that the UN has paid more than USD 13 million to the Syrian Government to boost farming and agriculture, yet the EU has banned trade with the departments in question over fear of misuse of the money.
The UN has also paid at least USD 4 million to the state-owned fuel supplier, which is also on the EU sanctions list.
The World Health Organisation has spent more than five million USD to support Syria’s national blood bank, which is being controlled by Assad’s defence department.
UNICEF has also paid USD 267,933 to the Al-Bustan Association, owned and run by Rami Makhlouf, a friend and cousin of Assad, and his charity has been linked to several pro-regime militia groups.
Makhlouf is also on the EU sanctions list and was described in US diplomatic cables as the country’s “poster boy for corruption”.
These contracts show how the United Nations operation has quietly secured deals with individuals and companies that have been designated off-limits by Europe and the US.
The UN, however, says it can only work with a small number of partners approved by President Assad, adding that the relief work has already saved millions of lives and argues it has to work with the regime if it wants to operate in Syria.
The UN also points out that it does not have to abide by the EU or US sanctions.
A UN official said there was unease within some of its agencies about the grip Assad’s government has on the relief effort.