In a new report 11.11.11, Broederlijk Delen and Pax Christi Flanders call upon the EU and EU member states to adjust their policy on Syria's recovery and reconstruction. The EU needs to reform the EU Madad Fund and allocate more resources for rebuilding local Syrian communities. Specific criteria need to be agreed to ensure that EU aid reaches local citizens and communities, instead of empowering the political and economic inner circle of the Syrian regime.
Seven year after the start of peaceful protests in Syria and the outbreak of a full-scale war, the international community is increasingly discussing the reconstruction of Syria. Observers are talking about a "reconstruction gold rush" en are asking a pertinent question: is reconstruction Syria's next battleground?
Yet, for all the emerging debate on rebuilding Syria, important questions are insufficiently posed and discussed. What are the key characteristics of the Syrian government's approach to reconstruction? What are the recovery and reconstruction strategies and interests of foreign actors? What are the key threats to sustainable recovery and reconstruction of Syria?
But more importantly: how can the EU find a proper balance between alleviating human suffering, avoiding the creation of an aid-dependent society, and unintentionally strengthening conflict drivers? Indeed, the World Bank warns that 'rebuilding the dissatisfaction that led to the war in the first place can have devastating effects'.
In a new report, "Reconstruction Calling ? Towards a different EU role in rebuilding Syria", 11.11.11, Broederlijk Delen and Pax Christi Flanders analyze the Syrian reconstruction question. This report is based on 57 interviews with Syrian activists and aid workers, United Nations officials, European diplomats and officials, academics and staff of international organizations and think tanks. Furthermore, we also analyzed official UN and EU policy documents and internal UN papers for the purpose of this report.
As such the report identified three key characteristics of the Assad government's approach to recovery and reconstruction: consolidating political and economic power within a narrow circle of regime-friendly elites; quelling dissent in former opposition areas and reconfiguring the social and demographic landscape; and attracting external funding from allied countries. The report also provides a closer look at the recovery and reconstruction efforts of the European Union (EU), Russia, Iran, Turkey, the United States, China and the United Nations.
The report also identifies a number of key obstacles to sustainable recovery and reconstruction. There is an enormous risk that European resources will be manipulated and will become victim of widespread corruption. Instead of helping affected civilians and communities, unconditional EU support risks to feed conflict drivers.
Attention is also paid to the presence of extremist groups in opposition areas and an increasing "militiafication" inside government areas, the lack of an inclusive and participatory rebuilding strategy, and an exclusive focus on physical reconstruction that ignores social capital reconstruction. Without such social reconstruction strategy the root causes of the Syrian conflict will be left unaddressed.
Syria conference Brussels
On 24 and 25 April 2018 the EU is organizing a new Syria Conference in Brussels. The EU and EU member states can use this opportunity to address these questions on recovery and reconstruction, and to adjust the EU's policy.
11.11.11, Broederlijk Delen and Pax Christi Flanders are therefore formulating a number of recommendations to the EU and EU member states, including:
- Expanding the scope of the EU Madad Fund towards assistance inside Syria, instead of the current exclusive focus on resilience assistance to Syria's neighbours. The report also suggests a number of criteria that could guide such assessments.
- Allocating resources for local surveys of recovery needs and priorities of regular Syrians.
- Actively involving displaced Syrians in discussions on recovery and reconstruction, and allocating specific resources for such exercises.
- Increasing the support to Syrian civil society organizations, who will have to play a key role in the physical and social reconstruction of Syria. Such increased support would be fully in line with the EU Syria Strategy of April 2017.