The Syrian Diaspora: Solidarity and the Humanitarian Bridge

Tuesday 18 April 2023




By Mohamad Al Ashmar


Since the first day of the 2011 Uprising, the Syrian diaspora has joined the efforts and aspirations of Syrians on the ground by yielding political and economic support, advocating for accountability, human rights, and the protection of civilians. Certainly, the uprising was a transformative event that triggered collective actions by the Syrian diaspora to contribute to social and political transformations in the country. In the humanitarian spheres, with the escalation of the conflict, and the siege imposed by the Syrian regime in Rural Damascus, Aleppo, and many areas in the country, the role of the Syrian diaspora as humanitarian responders has been unprecedented and tremendous. Many organisations, such as Syria Relief and Syrian American Medical Society, have established hundreds of makeshift hospitals in the besieged areas in Aleppo and Eastern Ghouta. In addition to mobilizing aid and advocating for the protection of civilians and supporting the resilience of internally displaced persons (IDPs). Over the years, their role has been growing at many levels.

Twelve years after the Syrian conflict, the emergence of the global Syrian diaspora, which includes the new Syrian refugee diaspora and the old Syrian diaspora communities, continues to alleviate the suffering of the Syrian population, including internally displaced persons (IDPs) inside Syria and Syrian refugees in host countries around the world.

In this light, a devastating earthquake hit Southeast Turkey and Northwest Syria earlier this February and had catastrophic implications for Syrians who were already subjected to hardship due to the conflict. It was a disaster within a disaster which left millions of Syrians in urgent need of necessities. Once again, Syrians were doing what they have honed over years of crises: relying on themselves to pick up the pieces and move on. The diaspora response and Syrian solidarity with the victims of the earthquake reflect how the diaspora acts at the forefront of socio-technical systems and the organisation of assistance. During the first hours of the earthquake crisis in Turkey and Syria, fundraising events, collection points, and social media groups were held across the globe (e.g., in New York, Berlin, Manchester, London, and Doha), to raise funds for the earthquake victims, and some of these campaigns are still taking place. As notable innovators in the transnational development of infrastructures, when mobilizing and channelling assistance and, most importantly, in belonging and staying connected to the homeland, enabling rapid mobilization and delivery of lifesaving assistance.

while Syrian discontent mounts against the UN’s handling of the crisis and the failure of the international community, many Syrian organisations and activists have used the term “the humanitarian bridge”. This bridge initiative refers to the Syrian diaspora’s determination to respond to the crisis in Northwest Syria, and to the collaboration between diaspora organizations and local responders. This bridge was established by Syrian communities in exile, who campaigned to fundraise and deliver aid those in need.

Both virtually and on the ground, Syrian have created their own platforms to support those affected. Within a few days,  the collected donations in the United States reached more than 1 million US dollars.  Organisations such as the prominent Syrian-led Smile & Olive Foundation have collected 4 million USD during the last few months and reportedly, the funding has reached more than 20 worldwide in the last few months across many countries. Looking at more available figures, one of the most prominent and active Syrian diaspora-led organizations is the Molham Volunteering Team (MVT), which has been able to collect more than 3 million USD on their platforms and social media accounts, until this date, from Syrians and non-Syrian donations across the globe. These donations have been organised and dedicated to helping affected families, sponsoring patients, orphans, victims, and survivors, as well as supporting those economically affected by the earthquake in both Northwest Syria and areas at the border with Turkey.[1]

Interestingly, the grieving Turkish and Syrian diaspora had rallied to provide support to one another and send aid to the local NGOs and frontline charity workers on the grounds. Syrian and Turkish diaspora in Germany -the home to the world’s largest Turkish diaspora and to the hundreds of thousands of Syrians- have joined forces to help earthquake victims and survivors. Dozens of Syrian and Turkish diaspora NGOs and hundreds of Turkish and Syrian volunteers had worked together on packing tens of shipping containers with boxes full of new tents, blankets, and sleeping bags.

Across many UK universities, Syrian, Turkish, and Arab scholars and students worked together to raise funds in their institutes, universities, and colleges, packing items and donations in coordination with local NGOs. These efforts and advocacy led to the recognition of Syrian-led diaspora organizations by many UK Universities, such as Oxford, Cambridge, and St Andrews, who have listed the Syrian Civil Defence (White Helmets) and Syrian Molham Volunteering Team on their websites and platforms to encourage donations and raise funding.

At the organisational levels, Syrian diaspora networks such as the American Relief Coalition for Syria (ARCS), Hand in Hand for Aid and Development (HIHFAD), Syrian American Medical Society Foundation, and Syria Union of Medical Organizations and other Syrian American Medical in the US have mobilized teams of volunteers with specialist skills on the ground in Syria and Türkiye. One of the Syrian diaspora’s largest Medical charitable organizations, SAMS, raised millions, dispatched doctors and volunteers to assist with ongoing search and rescue operations.

As hundreds of civil society organizations have a growing presence and role, particularly among Syrian refugees, their diverse innovative responses, missions, and specialities have contributed to strengthening and shaping the wide array of diaspora actions in times of crisis, internationally, nationally, and locally, that connect local frontline humanitarian actors to their diaspora partners. These diaspora responses for those affected by the earthquake demonstrate their power, and the value of transnational solidarity between local and diaspora actors.

It is worth noting that the Syrian diaspora’s capacity is not limited to collecting aid and humanitarian assistance, but they also have the power to campaign and raise their voices and advocate at the political level. The Syrian British Consortium, one of the active Syrian British lobbies, has launched Syria’s House in Trafalgar Square in central London to shed light on the disaster which used to draw attention to the scale of the humanitarian disaster. During the opening, many prominent figures took part to express their condolences and show solidarity with the Syrian people, including His Majesty King Charles, Mayor of London Sadiq Khan, and Prime Minister Rishi Sunak. Syrian businessmen and diaspora-based civil society organisations, such as White Helmets (Syrian Civil Defense), Syrian British Society, Action for Sama, and Asfari Foundation, used these platforms to raise awareness of the continuing suffering of the Syrian people, solidarity, and provide a focus for the earthquake relief efforts of the Syrian community worldwide to support the war-raged areas and affected Syrians, and shining a spotlight on the international community failed to save the lives of Syrians in the Northwest of Syria.

Throughout the conflict, Syrian diaspora organisations are working on delivering millions of pieces of clothing, trucks of foodstuffs, mobile food trucks, shelters, and bakeries that are helping the displaced people on daily basis.

Lastly, the Syrian diaspora has also been active against the normalisation of the Assad regime, who have manipulated the urgent need for earthquake relief aid while questing to break the decade-long isolation. Organisations such as the Syrian American Lobby and Syrian American Council, called for a comprehensive policy towards Syria that upholds human rights and prevents normalisation with the Assad regime and called on the US administration and some EU member states to adopt a more robust assistance policy to help the Syrian people.

Syrian Diaspora and its vital humanitarian role must be seen in its broader context and potential, across entangled geopolitical and economic spheres, transnational and trans-local scales. Given the vulnerability of international agencies to political pressure and aid politicization during this earthquake, much of the more visible activism in the humanitarian sector in Syria has been undertaken by these diaspora organisations. Their growing capacity and impact are evolving from their experience and responses to the protracted crisis and shocks, including COVID in 2020, the Cholera outbreak in 2021, and this devastating earthquake, which lasts well into the hopes of their future role in reconstruction, peace, and recovery phase. As an evolving power through heroic humanitarianism, their engagement is part of long-established practices of effect and care and a sense of moral obligation to help, advocate, and support, that is conducted and spanning from Syria, neighbouring countries, the Middle East, and across the Western countries and international arenas.


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