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Syria Country Director: A challenging position in a thrilling context

The constantly changing situation in Syria makes the delivery of aid extremely difficult and dangerous. SOLIDARITÉS INTERNATIONAL teams have been constantly adapting to the landscape, making its mission a professional challenge like no other, according to outgoing Country Director Philippe Bonnet.


Syria now counts more than 13.5 million people in need of assistance © Vianney Le Caer / SOLIDARITÉS INTERNATIONAL

In an ever-changing environment, population movements are expected in northern Syria throughout 2017, from all the current and potential battle zones to safer parts of the country. Azaz district, where SOLIDARITÉS INTERNATIONAL is currently operating, is considered safe and now hosts about 200,000 IDPs. Despite the presence of numerous NGOs, the needs are far from being covered. Large parts of the area formerly under ISIS control are now accessible. Inhabitants started to come back, joining IDPs fleeing the fierce fighting in Al Bab, a city which is lesser known than Aleppo but has suffered just as much. The fighting and the lack of maintenance have given way to multiple needs: access to basic services (health, education, water, etc.), shelters, protection, etc.

A threefold action

In 2017, our contribution to support the population in the north of Syria will be threefold: a Rapid Response Mechanism to provide IDPs and host communities with timely, multi-sector assistance (protection, water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH), non-food items, and shelter) in the area of northern Syria where access will be granted (Azaz, Afrin and maybe Membij). The second axis of intervention aims to provide access to basic social services. IDPS, returnees and host populations in Azaz District and Afrin Canton will be targeted by actions in health (with a local partner), WASH, protection etc. Finally, the third axis of intervention will aim at improving livelihoods and resilience in the more stable parts of Azaz District.

distrib 3-300An expanding mission

Mid-2016, the Syria mission almost closed with only two expatriates and some national staff members remaining. Thanks to huge efforts of the very committed teams in Gaziantep and in Syria, it was possible to gain access to new areas, making SOLIDARITÉS INTERNATIONAL a recognized actor. At present, the mission has a team of about 50 national staff members in Syria (plus those of our local health partner) and the coordination positions are fully staffed with 8 expatriates and 10 nationals. Depending on new funds, the coordination team should even scale up.

A humanitarian challenge

Due to the complexity of the conflict, respecting the humanitarian principles of neutrality and impartiality remains a challenge for NGOs. Indeed, the country is split between four main entities: ISIS, the government, anti-Assad rebel groups and the Kurds. As a consequence, NGOs have to choose an area, which indirectly, contributes to the idea we would be supporting one or the other parties. In this context, respect of humanitarian principles should always be at the centre of our intervention, and we should ensure that the nature and relevance of our intervention justify taking those risks.

The challenge of remote management

Expatriates' access to northern Syria is limited by the administrative closure of the Syrian-Turkish border rather than security issues that could be tackled. Therefore, we cannot directly monitor the quality of the need assessments nor the implementation of the projects. Taking into consideration this lack of access, adapted remote management tools have been set up. It's a different way of working than in other contexts, but I personally considered it as an opportunity to explore new areas, develop new tools and eventually build up my capacities and experience.

Advice to my successor

From my perspective and humanitarian experience, it is paramount to have a strong humanitarian commitment, to manage to keep a high level of motivation while being far from the field and beneficiaries, while comfortably settled in Turkey. Obviously the context is extremely interesting and stimulating and having a great interest in following it can somehow compensate the distance from the field. The willingness and imagination to develop new tools and new way of working adapted to the remote nature of the operation would be of high added value.

Some new interesting challenges include opening in new areas, working on access strategies and proudly representing SOLIDARITÉS INTERNATIONAL in the coordination mechanisms!

Does this description fit you? If you wish to join a highly committed team, please find here after further details on the job description and how to apply.


full 561ba611ef59e-philippebonetPhilippe Bonnet

After a military assignment for the Saumur Cavalry School and a background as a lawyer, Philippe Bonnet became an aid worker in 2000 before working as a logistician for MSF, then as a Field Coordinator. In 2007 he started working for SOLIDARITÉS INTERNATIONAL, fulfilling Head of Mission positions in several Asian and African countries and now in the Middle East.

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