A recent study by Impact showed that presence and influence of Turkish forces in northern and eastern Aleppo, the large waves of displacement to and from the region and the resulting demographic changes created a context different from that observed in the rest of the opposition-controlled areas in the northwest.
That this changed the scene of civil society in the region after the “Euphrates Shield” and “olive branch.”
The study revealed that the majority of humanitarian efforts in the region are coordinated and managed either by Turkish humanitarian bodies or their international counterparts, such as Afad, Turkish Red Crescent and United Nations agencies and have partnerships with a limited group of Syrian non-governmental humanitarian organizations. In addition, many charities operating in different geographical areas are seeking to expand their operations, although this will not be without certain restrictions, to the Euphrates Shield area.
The most prominent activities run by civil society organizations are the provision of services in education and health sectors. Most of these interventions are run by large and well-known non-governmental organizations operating remotely, particularly from Turkey.
The report noted that 514 civil society organizations included in the survey, 61 organizations included the Euphrates shield area within their areas of its operation, noting that vast majority of these organizations (53 organizations) are based in Turkey.
And that civil society organizations are not permitted to carry out their activities in the region unless they are officially registered in Turkey or have a work permit obtained specifically from governor of Hatay, Kellis or Gaziantep.
The area of civil society in this region has also been affected by the Turkish government’s campaign against some international and Syrian civil society organizations based in Turkey, particularly in southern province of Gaziantep in 2017.
The research also noted that local grass-roots civil society organizations are largely absent, with exception of a small number of small-scale volunteer groups and initiatives with limited support, generally due to the difficulty of registering these organizations and obtaining the above-mentioned working permits.
The report pointed out that “Sham Liberation Organization”, which is formed from al-Nasra movement, which is a branch of al-Qaeda in Syria and its backbone through Office of Organization Affairs, is responsible for organizing the work of civil society organizations and NGOs in Idlib. The affairs of civil society organizations, in particular those working in the humanitarian field. Examples of such interference include frequent incidents including harassment and detention of members of civil society organizations, as well as exploitation and extortion. But control of “Salvation Government” of the “Liberation of Al Sham” on several local committees has a direct impact on the work of local civil society organizations.
The study said that the effects of these changes in the context of areas under control of opposition forces can also be seen on the external sides. Many major international donors are considering cutting off funding for these areas, fearing that funding would go to terrorist groups. This trend is a major concern for civil society organizations operating in the region, especially with the lack of alternative financing options for the majority of them.
All these changes have been reflected in form of new challenges for civil society organizations operating in the region and at various levels, including their access to finance and their freedom to work.
Syrian Democratic Forces:
The report mentioned the absence of civil society activity in areas that were under pre-existing control of ISIS until early 2017, its means in Raqqa and Deir al-Zour, and that during this period of control, civil society activity ceased due to the persecution of activists in these areas. In late 2017, as Syria’s democratic forces began to take control of the area and gradually expel fighters, the civilian workspace opened up to activists to return to civilian activity and re-establishment. In month of May of 2018 saw formation and licensing of 20 civil society organizations in the province of Raqqa alone and this number has increased significantly to more than 35 organizations by the end of the year, as well as several Syrian civil society organizations, which expanded its operations to include Raqqa . In launching its activities in this heavily demographically damaged civilian population.
And that the newly established civil society organizations in Raqqa seemed less capable in terms of their structures and strategic planning than more experienced civil society organizations in other parts of Syria in terms of small size and low staff competencies. Of 35 civil society organizations in Raqqa, 23 indicated that there aren’t presence of any staff received trained in their fields of work.
The civil society organizations that began to form in Deir al-Zour city after the restoration of parts of the city from ISIS control , where the number of civil society organizations newly established within the areas controlled by Syrian Democratic forces 11 organizations by November 2018, Relief and basic services, with limited capacity and resources.
The change in the control map in these areas was manifested in the formation of new structures of local government such as Raqqa Civil Council in May 2017 and Deir Al-Zour Civil Council in September 2017. SDC(Syrian Democratic Council ) has a special unit known as NGO Office, which is responsible for the organization of civil society organizations, including registration issues and work permits.
The report talked about shrinking space available to civil society organizations to operate in areas under the control of the Syrian government and that civil society in areas under the control of Syrian government still faces enormous challenge of working under a low roof of freedoms, including: Licensing, legal status, lack of funding opportunities, fear of communication with third parties, security concerns related to employees and beneficiaries and issues related to data security.
Civil society organizations in areas under the control of the Syrian government often struggle to act without attention, taking form of volunteer teams or initiatives, clandestine networks of activists or charities, with a greater inclination to work in sectors related to social and economic development, Such as empowering women, local initiatives and small businesses, rather than traditional areas of government such as education and health.