Proceedings of the Standing Senate Committee on
Issue 16 - Evidence - April 23, 2015
OTTAWA, Thursday, April 23, 2015
The Standing Senate Committee on Human Rights met this day at 8:02 a.m.
to examine and report on how the mandates and practices of the UNHCR and
UNICEF have evolved to meet the needs of displaced children in modern
conflict situations, with particular attention to the current crisis in
Senator Mobina S. B. Jaffer (Chair) in the chair.
The Chair: Honourable senators, welcome to the twenty-ninth
meeting of the Second Session of the Forty-first Parliament of the Standing
Senate Committee on Human Rights.
Our committee has been mandated by the Senate to study matters pertaining
to human rights, both in Canada and abroad.
My name is Mobina Jaffer, and I am the chair of this committee. I am
pleased to welcome you to this meeting.
Before I continue, I would like my colleagues to introduce themselves,
starting with the deputy chair.
Senator Ataullahjan: Salma Ataullahjan, Ontario.
Senator Eaton: Nicky Eaton from Toronto.
Senator Nancy Ruth: Nancy Ruth, Toronto.
Senator Tannas: Scott Tannas from Alberta.
Senator Andreychuk: Raynell Andreychuk from Saskatchewan.
The Chair: On May 6, 2014, the Senate passed the following order
of reference: That the Standing Senate Committee on Human Rights be
authorized to examine and report on how the mandates and practices of the
UNHCR and UNICEF have evolved to meet the needs of displaced children in
modern conflict situations, with particular attention to the current crisis
The conflict in Syria has triggered one of the most appalling
humanitarian and refugee crises in modern history. The consequences of that
situation on children are particularly distressing.
An estimated 3 million children are internally displaced in Syria, and
1.2 million are refugees abroad. Millions of children are out of school,
separated from their families, in need of protection and in need of medical
care, both physical and psychological.
Displaced children are also at greater risk of poverty, abuse, neglect,
violence, exploitation, trafficking, child marriage and forced recruitment
into armed groups.
Canada is a significant financial contributor to both the United Nations
High Commissioner for Refugees and the United Nations Children's Rights and
Emergency Relief Organization. Both of these organizations have been working
on the ground to provide relief for millions of Syrians who have been
affected by this conflict.
The organizations have had to use their limited resources to respond to
the changing humanitarian needs that arise from a modern, protracted
conflict. As a result, their mandates and practices have had to evolve
accordingly. We are studying how these mandates are evolving.
To begin our hearing today, I would like to welcome our first witnesses,
both of whom are appearing via video conference. We have Ms. Maggie Black,
UNICEF Historian, and Dr. Martin Barber, Honorary Fellow, University of
Edinburgh and Former Director, United Nations Mine Action Service.
We would like to welcome both of you and we appreciate you giving us your
time today to share your knowledge about these mandates. I understand that
both of you have opening remarks.
Mr. Barber, shall we start with you?
Martin Barber, Honorary Fellow, University of Edinburgh and Former
Director, United Nations Mine Action Service, as an individual: Thank
you very much for inviting me to speak to you today. I should perhaps just
say that my career in the UN found me working with refugees in southeast
Asia and in Britain on the coordination of humanitarian assistance, both in
the field and on policy issues at UN headquarters in New York, some
peacekeeping and also, as you have said, the mine action question.
I had the privilege of a very varied career, and after it completed, I
thought I should write some of it down. I recently published a memoir.
The experience of writing it down made me reflect deeply on what I had
experienced. I came to two broad conclusions. The first is that everybody
who looks at humanitarian emergencies looks at them from different
perspectives and that very often, from the perspective that we may have, we
are sometimes a bit blinded by the reality of what we're looking at.
The second thing is that we don't often challenge the way things are from
an institutional point of view. If you were sitting in Syria and witnessed
the extraordinary number of different UN agencies that appeared to assist
you in different ways, and the large number of NGOs that want to try and
assist you, you might think to yourself, "Gosh, isn't this rather a
dysfunctional international community?''
I think it's important to be willing to challenge our assumptions and
also our perceptions. With that in mind, I wanted to say that I read with
very great interest the transcript of your discussions with professors
Oestreich and McBride, and I think they covered a great deal of very
important ground. I thought perhaps I would make four points for you this
The first is that in conflict situations, the body of international law,
which really has primacy, is international humanitarian law, the Geneva
conventions of 1949 and the protocols of 1977. In relation to the
humanitarian assistance to be provided by United Nations organizations and
other international organizations, the humanitarian principle to which it
gives the greatest importance is impartiality. I know when you were talking
to the professors you spoke quite a bit about neutrality, and that's
important too, but in terms of the delivery of assistance, impartiality is
given the greatest focus. This means that United Nations organizations
should not be giving assistance to people living in one part of a country if
they cannot give assistance to people in another part of the country. I
would be happy to come back to that point a little more, if you wish.
The second point is that the local people very often are in a better
position to provide assistance to their fellow countrymen than we, as
external donors, are. If we could more frequently support them to do that,
this would be great.
Recently, however, these efforts have been coming up against
understandable bureaucratic requirements of donors. For instance, a couple
of weeks ago, I was talking with people from the Syrian diaspora in the U.K.
who have set up a number of relief organizations that have excellent
penetration within and access to the country, but they can't get funding
from government sources because they don't have three years of audited
accounts to set before the donors. So sometimes there is a disconnect
between our rules for how we manage our funds and the people who might be in
the best position to make our funds go furthest.
A third point is that, as your last witnesses told you, there have been
considerable efforts to improve coordination of the international
humanitarian response. I think these have led to a number of significant
improvements, but in my view, there's been one important, unintended
consequence, and that is a tendency to politicize the provision of
humanitarian aid by the UN.
You were talking last time about UNICEF and negotiating access and
arrangements with different parties to the conflict. But in most modern
crises, UNICEF is working as part of the Inter-Agency Standing Committee and
is working under the overall coordination of the Emergency Relief
Coordinator. The Emergency Relief Coordinator is based in New York and works
directly under the Secretary-General of the United Nations. It is reasonable
to suggest that, in recent years, that system has become rather more open to
a politicized approach than was perhaps the case in the past.
My last point is that international refugee law, which is very important
for Syrians who have fled the country into neighbouring countries, is not
fit for purpose, in my view. I've held this view now for some 30 years, and
30 years ago my colleagues used to tell me, "What? What are you talking
about? This is not right.'' Now when I make the same arguments, people are
listening with a little more attention.
What I mean precisely is that the 1967 protocol turned the right to seek
asylum, which is contained in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,
into a right to seek asylum absolutely anywhere you like. It seems to me
that, again, this very laudable universalization of the right to seek asylum
has had unfortunate, unintended consequences, and we see this in the
Mediterranean today. One part — and I stress it's only a part — of the
reasons for the difficulty that Europe is having in dealing with this crisis
is that refugees from any country in the world have the right to seek asylum
in any other country that is a party to the convention.
Those are a few brief remarks that I hope will make you think again.
The Chair: Thank you very much for your remarks.
We will now proceed with the next witness, Ms. Black.
Maggie Black, UNICEF Historian, as an individual: Good afternoon,
or good morning. I'm here because I'm the author of two histories of UNICEF,
one of them published on the fortieth anniversary and one on the fiftieth
anniversary. That second one was published in 1996.
I continue to write for UNICEF, and I acted as a consultant until about
2011, but I can't claim to know anything about the Syrian emergency. What I
do know about is the genesis, if you like, of UNICEF and its humanitarian
mandate, its work in international emergency work both in conflict and
natural disasters through several decades, the principles, the experience
and so on underlying all of that. I also do have some observations on the
contemporary situation in general, which relate to what your previous
I would like to start by talking a bit about the genesis of UNICEF's work
and its delivery on its humanitarian mandate over time.
UNICEF was created in the aftermath of the Second World War. It was
created because the U.S. and the Western Allies would not continue to give
aid through the mechanism, which was a UN mechanism — the earliest-ever UN
mechanism, relief administration — to the countries of Eastern Europe. So
the residue, if you like, of UNRRA was to go to this new ICEF, the
International Children's Emergency Fund. It was a temporary organization to
carry out emergency relief operations, feeding children and bringing health
care in the countries of Eastern Europe.
The whole of the idea of whether you call it humanitarian neutrality or
impartiality is actually stamped in UNICEF's genes. The first executive
director and the original resolution founding the organization said from the
very beginning that there was to be no such thing as a child who was
regarded as an enemy. All aid was to be non- discriminatory in terms of any
form of allegiance, which is the kind of language we find in the later
Declaration of Human Rights. That is very important. Also, UNICEF right from
the beginning worked on both sides of the Greek civil war, the Chinese civil
war, the Nigerian civil war and so on.
Unwittingly, because children are alleged to be above the political
divide — that's a principle of UNICEF's existence — UNICEF was a kind of
Trojan Horse within the UN system, which in the early years could be used to
kind of navigate or circumvent the sovereignty principle. That meant that
you could posit, too, that the leader of a country such as Nigeria in the
state of civil war — because children's lives should be protected and saved
— should allow UNICEF, even though it's under the UN umbrella, to cross
enemy lines to deliver aid to children on the other side.
We didn't talk about it; UNICEF didn't shout about this because otherwise
it could be called into question. In a way, it was a breach of the
sovereignty principle. I'll come to that a little more later.
It's important to understand that even though, in principle, the UN could
only deal with recognized heads of government and could not deal with war
lords or secessionists, UNICEF did manage to do so; it worked on the other
side in the Vietnam War; it was the UN's lead agency, as the parlance was,
in the aid program to Cambodia in 1979. This whole thing went right through
until the late 1980s.
The second important aspect of UNICEF's origins and creation is that it
was a program assistance, material assistance, supplies delivery
organization. Leaving aside the question of the HCR and its involvement, the
World Food Programme also delivers food. Apart from these, UNICEF is the
only UN organization of a general nature involved in development activities,
which is in its nature a deliverer of material assistance.
In the early days of UNICEF, it was assumed that this meant the
organization was purely humanitarian. It delivered goods, and it was a
handout type of organization.
Very quickly, it transpired that you can also help the human condition in
a general sense, for example in the campaigns of disease control, which
characterized the 1950s, and nutrition programs. When the whole idea of
development aid, aid to the post-colonial world, opened up, it became clear
that material assistance could be delivered to populations who were not in
an emergency situation. There was no rescue operation; they were suffering
from the general condition of poor health, poor nutrition, under-nutrition,
hunger, lack of water supplies and sanitation, the gamut of social
The material assistance role remained the chief characterization of the
organization as it assumed, from the 1960s onward, a role in development.
And its role in development is not an economic one. It's obviously a social
For example, in the 1960s, UNICEF had a huge input into the effort to
eradicate malaria. If you're delivering material assistance, you don't just
deliver it to the ministry in question, whether it's the ministry of health
or agriculture or education. Obviously you will need to check that your
assistance goes to where it is intended for.
By definition, you set up a considerable staff in the country office, in
the countries concerned. You have staff whose competence is to go and help
develop the programs, the logistic systems, the transport methods, the
supply chains, the supplies protection at the far end, all those mechanisms
that enable program aid and material assistance to be delivered.
Uniquely again, within the UN system as a general rule, not in an
emergency situation but in a general developmental context, UNICEF has
country offices and sub-country offices in many of the larger countries,
such as Nigeria or India or Brazil, which are hands-on. They are not
hands-on right to the ground, but hands-on down to say the district council
level in terms of development programs, delivery of assistance, fashioning
of aid programs, helping develop the personnel, helping find the NGOs,
helping build the NGOs that can do the footwork on the ground.
Therefore, I want to point out that within the UN system, we like to
think that UN organizations are similar. They are not similar. Some of them
are technical consultancies, more in the character of university
departments. They are in the character of expertise at the highest level.
They are number crunchers. They are all sorts of very useful things, but
this organization, UNICEF, is unique in being a program material assistance
When we come to assistance in a humanitarian crisis, you usually have a
very considerable country office on the ground already. In a country like
Syria it wouldn't be a considerable country office, but it would be a
country office including a number of national staff, not just international
staff, and local staff.
I remember in Myanmar, when an incredible hurricane flooded the whole of
the coast, the Myanmar government said no aid agencies may come in. UNICEF
was already there. It had a considerable staff and capacity, and it has a
network of contacts with NGOs and government people.
You have to recognize that not even UNDP has anything like the program
delivery capacity, knowledge or anything compared to UNICEF.
I would then go on to point out that in very sensitive situations —
obviously Syria comes into this category, and many recent emergencies come
into this category — you often have, in the UNICEF case, somebody on the
ground who has sat down and negotiated with warlords. They have managed to
persuade people in Somalia, Sudan, in southern Senegal. And I've witnessed
it in southern Senegal. They have managed to persuade rebel leaders that
children should be saved. They should be fed. They should be helped, and
that everybody can be appealed to at that level.
I would suggest that, if you like to call it the right to survival, is an
appeal to mercy and compassion. That appeal, because the people in situ know
how to do it and can do it, has been an invisible contribution that UNICEF
has been able to bring to its relief operations.
I think, and this comes back to what your previous speaker suggested, the
idea that you had better bring all the UN organizations under one umbrella,
whether it's in the development program context or the humanitarian
assistance context, did have a great danger. And your previous speaker said
we've had a politicization of humanitarian aid. He attributed it partly to
the question of the coordination that has given this unforeseen aspect to
humanitarian operations. To me it was not unforeseen. To many of us in
humanitarian operations or development operations for human beings, it was
not unforeseen; this was entirely predictable.
The day that the Secretary-General published his Agenda for Peace in
which they argued that military operations, humanitarian endeavour and
coordination should all be under one umbrella, you launch the moment in
which the key principle of humanitarian operations — which should be always
pinned to neutrality, impartiality, we're only here to help the child, to
save the child for compassionate reasons — became contaminated.
We have seen subsequently, in the case of the use of vaccinators in
Pakistan to get at Osama bin Laden, a devastating result where we have had
80 vaccinators assassinated.
I know we can't turn the clock back. We cannot go back to the point where
someone in UNICEF could go to a warlord and say, "Look, this is just UNICEF;
here I am. I appeal to you. I appeal to your best instincts. We will keep it
quiet. Could we not just bring in three truckloads of goods for your kids
I just regret that this great machinery of coordination is by some donors
thought to be more important than allowing for that individuality, that
creativity. If you like, it's even a slightly anarchic structure that allows
for the possibility that more people can be assisted.
My remarks will probably be seen as somewhat provocative, so I think I
better close my remarks at that point.
The Chair: Thank you very much for your remarks, Ms. Black.
I'm going to start with the first question, if I may. Dr. Barber, you
spoke about impartiality, and I would appreciate if you would expand on that
Mr. Barber: Yes, thank you very much. I was involved very much in
the program of assistance to Afghanistan. If you will recall, during the war
in Afghanistan in the 1980s, the UN did not provide humanitarian aid in
Afghanistan itself essentially because it wasn't in a position to do so
impartially. Then after the Geneva Accords of 1988, Sadruddin Aga Khan, who
was appointed coordinator of humanitarian operations in Afghanistan,
negotiated what he called the humanitarian consensus. The humanitarian
consensus was that the government in Kabul authorized the United Nations to
deliver assistance to all parts of the country: across the borders from
Pakistan and Iran; from the north, from the then Soviet Union; or across
lines, from government-controlled cities into the mujahedeen-controlled
Once he had negotiated that with the president in Kabul, Sadruddin
negotiated the same arrangements with the leaders of the opposition parties,
the mujahedeen groups. I was involved directly in the management of those
operations for a number of years and, until the collapse of the Najibullah
regime in Kabul in 1992, those arrangements actually worked pretty well, and
we were able to deliver assistance to all sides of the conflict.
You may say the situation in Syria is not the same, and that's correct.
No two situations are identical. But if one looks at what the UN was faced
with in 2011-12, the UN agencies began to provide humanitarian assistance in
areas controlled by the government and, to some extent, through the Syrian
Arab Red Crescent, to a few other parts of the country to which they had
access. But they did so on the assumption that they would be able to
negotiate access to other parts of the country under opposition control.
That assumption proved to be false. What we saw was President al-Assad
doing what, in the words of the Geneva Conventions, is described as
"arbitrarily denying consent'' to the UN agencies to provide assistance
impartially to all parts of the country.
My personal view is that, in those circumstances, the UN, as the
organization, along with the ICRC, governed by the rules of the Geneva
Conventions, should not have continued to provide humanitarian aid in Syria.
I know this may sound a very strange thing to say — that the UN would decide
not to provide aid in a country where it's desperately needed — but I think
one has to remember that by providing aid to one side and not the other, you
add to the legitimacy of one side as against the other. Maybe you can even
be accused of assisting one side to feed their population, whereas you're
not assisting the other side.
Of course, none of the UN agencies wanted this to happen, but I think
that the fact that it was and has been allowed to happen, and to some extent
is still happening, this should not have been the case. I think it has
affected the perception of impartiality of the UN around the world and not
only in Syria.
The Chair: Thank you very much for that explanation. We will move
on to the deputy chair, Senator Ataullahjan.
Ms. Black: Could I come back for one second, Madam Chair? I would
like to say that UNICEF was operating in Afghanistan throughout the 1980s.
UNICEF has always operated in Afghanistan throughout every single regime,
including running immunization campaigns during the 1980s on both sides of
the conflict lines. I just wanted to make that point.
It's not a part of the UN in the way that is being described. It was
separate from the UN in the way that it's being described. Thank you very
Senator Ataullahjan: Good afternoon, and thank you for your
Mr. Barber, my question is to you. As someone who is well versed in UN
operations, would you say that there's overall cooperation and cohesiveness
between UNICEF and UNHCR?
Also, given recent events, like what we're seeing in the world with what
is happening in Europe, do you think that UNICEF and UNHCR have to change
the way they operate? Would their mandates have to change?
Mr. Barber: The level of cohesiveness between UNICEF and UNHCR
does inevitably vary in different situations around the world. As your
speakers at the last session pointed out, UNICEF representatives have a
considerable degree of dedicated authority to manage their programs. It's
natural that in some situations, inter-agency coordination, cooperation and
cohesiveness is good; in other situations, it's perhaps less good.
In terms of the mandates, I'll leave it to Ms. Black to comment on
UNICEF, but as far as UNHCR goes, this goes back to the point that I made
about international refugee law: Personally, perhaps the next High
Commissioner for Refugees could see it as his or her role to look at refugee
situations in a more comprehensive manner.
It's interesting that we have a High Commissioner for Refugees but not a
high commissioner for refugee situations. It's absolutely essential that
refugees have an advocate, because they have put themselves outside the
protection of their own governments. So the High Commissioner for Refugees
is an advocate on behalf of refugees, and that's absolutely right. But when
we look at refugees, we sometimes don't look at the consequences of refugee
movements for the people who are left behind or the people who are in
refugee camps when some refugees try to go further, cross the Mediterranean,
reach Europe, et cetera.
These are very complex situations. I must say I would like to see a high
commissioner or another official give the world a more comprehensive
overview of the consequences on other people of refugee movements.
You see, the High Commissioner for Refugees' primary responsibility, if
you like, is to ensure that people are not forcibly returned to their
country of origin against their will. I've likened that to a game of
football — soccer — where you have linesmen who are checking that nobody
gets offside, but you don't have a referee who's got an overview of all
that's happening on the pitch. I'd like to see either a high commissioner or
another official look more broadly at the impact and consequences of refugee
Senator Ataullahjan: Mr. Barber, if you could bring changes about
in how UNICEF operates, what would be your top priorities?
Mr. Barber: Going back to what Ms. Black said, I do think that we
have a dilemma here, because at one end, it's extremely difficult for
countries facing emergencies to deal separately with five or 10 different UN
agencies and hundreds of different NGOs, each wanting to do their own thing.
At one level, I would be keen to see greater levels of coordination and
integration within the UN system. But that comes up to what she said earlier
and to what I also said, which is that the greater levels of integration and
coordination risk causing a politicization of that assistance.
I think there is an argument, which she has made very eloquently, for
UNICEF to be treated as different from the rest of the UN system. Of course
if you remember that UNICEF has a mandate for children, and also for mothers
and children, then people might say, "Well, that's a partial mandate. It's
not a mandate for everybody who is suffering from the consequences of
UNICEF has very often worked in partnership with the World Food
Programme. The World Food Programme provides food, so then you need two
organizations. Then what about shelter? Should UNHCR or IOM, the
International Organization for Migration, be providing shelter? So you get
into this difficulty about what is provided by UNICEF and what should be
provided by everybody else. It is quite difficult to turn the clock back,
but perhaps with the World Humanitarian Summit coming up next year, there
would be an opportunity for some more radical thinking about what the best
way forward is.
I would be reluctant personally to make specific suggestions for the
mandate of UNICEF, but just to point out the environment in which UNICEF has
to operate these days.
Senator Eaton: Thank you very much. You've given us a lot to think
Mr. Barber, when we talk about the UN and UNICEF, do their problems not
stem from the fact that those organizations were created many years ago when
the world was a very different place? And the UN, I remember as a child, had
huge political clout. It seems in the last decade or so that the UN doesn't
have the political clout it used to have, that it's almost a last resort or
a second thought. You could both comment on that, please.
Also, Mr. Barber, I think we're not accustomed to seeing in the refugee
situation now in the Middle East, and Northern Africa seems to be moving,
when you see those terrible deaths this week. You can understand European
nations that have their own unemployment problems and economic woes. Can
they accommodate 50,000 and 60,000 people who are very culturally different
than they are perhaps? It's an enormous problem. Could you both comment on
both of those things? And Mr. Barber, you were also talking about the
asylum, the universality of asylum and what that means.
Mr. Barber: In terms of the clout of the United Nations, I was at
the UN headquarters during most of Kofi Annan's first term, and I must say
that at that time I did feel that the United Nations had considerable clout
and that its reputation was high. That was in part because of the end of the
Cold War and in part because of Kofi Annan's personality and knowledge of
the UN system. Unfortunately, with the Iraq war in 2003 and the subsequent
scandals, the lustre on the United Nations started to fade. I think it has
not really recovered since then.
The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have not only caused deep problems for
the UN; they've caused terrible losses to the UN in terms of lives, of staff
members. They've led to very stringent security requirements, which mean
that it's much more difficult for international staff members of the UN to
get around, to operate and to talk to people in many of the dangerous
situations that we are now confronted with. In a number of the worst
situations, staff members are essentially confined to their compounds, and
in my view, it's not worth having staff members in situations who are simply
confined to their compounds.
In terms of the asylum regime and the situation in North Africa, the
Middle East and Europe, I think one has to be extremely careful because this
is a very complex set of situations that are converging and resulting in
I was in Southeast Asia during the boat people crisis, and looking at the
figures recently, I see that the UNHCR estimates that perhaps more than
200,000 Vietnamese drowned between 1975 and 1995 trying to get from Vietnam
to one of the neighbouring countries in Southeast Asia. Perhaps 800,000
actually made it. So one in five, one in four, didn't make it. This went on
for many years, and that was simple because they were coming from a single
country. Now we have people leaving several different countries, some of
whom are clearly refugees and some of whom are clearly not refugees but are
economic migrants. They're being mixed up in the boats in Libya, but some of
them are meeting the same tragic fate in the Mediterranean.
My own view is that we need to separate out these two issues in our
planning and in our thinking, in our minds, and that we need to go back to
the sources of the problems and see what we can do, first of all perhaps to
regulate legal migration from some of the countries from which people are
migrating illegally, and secondly to provide much better levels of support
to people in refugee situations in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey.
I have one quick thought on the refugee and asylum system. You do realize
that most of the biggest recipients of refugees have never been parties to
any of the UN conventions. Jordan, Lebanon, Pakistan are not parties to the
refugee conventions. Perhaps that's not strictly relevant to where we are
now, but the solutions to these problems are not really to be found looking
from where we are; we have to go there and start looking from where they
Senator Andreychuk: Thank you. I was going to follow up on some of
Senator Ataullahjan's comments, but we seem to have gone in a slightly
different direction, particularly, Dr. Barber, with your answers. You said a
number of things in your opening statements, but you're now elaborating on
them. Basically, what I draw from it is that we're living in a much more
complex, mobile society. When the refugee situation was started, it was
generally refugees into the neighbouring countries, and we were giving
whatever informal assistance we could. We've formalized it to a certain
extent, but with each situation, we find ourselves saying that it's unique,
different, more complex, and we need to find answers.
It seems there are no finite answers to these questions. It's whether our
response is adequate within the machinery that we have now and whether we
should be anticipating more and looking, first, as you pointed out, in the
preventive mould, but also in the reactive mould. Should we have more
flexibility for the agencies? I think that's what we're looking for in this
I'd like you to comment on that, if you could.
Mr. Barber: I would agree completely with that. That's an
excellent description of where we are and the approach that we need to take.
Perhaps Ms. Black would like to come in on some of these points as well.
Ms. Black: Yes, thank you, Dr. Barber.
I would like to revert to the question of the UN clout. The UN is the sum
of its parts, and its clout very much depends on whether its major donors
use it and want to use it. I agree that since the Iraq war, for all sorts of
reasons, there has been a loss of power, perhaps, partly because people
haven't wanted to use it. The American agenda has gone ahead without the UN,
There's also a question of the fact that the trend is for globalization,
reduction of government and reduction of the public role, and that has also
slightly militated against the UN's role as an international bringer of
assistance, whether in the development, the refugee or the humanitarian
I'd like to note that the big global funds of both Bill Gates and Bill
Clinton have been founded in this period, since the Millennium Development
Goals, which was a big thrust for the UN from 2000 onward, and that has
produced an emphasis on poverty; we're not talking about that here. But the
Clinton and Gates funds were started largely because they wanted to be able
to deliver HIV, TB, malaria treatments and so on — again, material
assistance. I'm just using that to again illustrate that I really do believe
in this difference between the kinds of UN organizations that devise
international legislation, bring technical expertise, review cooperation
arrangements, et cetera, and those that can, and have the capacity and
mandate to, deliver goods on the ground.
I could only say about UNICEF's mandate that I don't see how it would
ever be created today, and I think we would meddle with it at our peril. I
would like to hope that the mandate of UNICEF, and of the other humanitarian
UN organizations, could be protected under all circumstances, because they
really represent the global community's desire to do good in the world and
to save lives in the world. I think their record, even though we despair
sometimes and wish we could do more, is very commendable indeed. Yes, in a
humanitarian emergency context, there may be chaos, but then the place has
been totally disrupted; that's why there's chaos.
Yes, we should have a coordinated humanitarian response. But we shouldn't
coordinate at the risk of damaging the capacity of any individual agency to
deliver its best shot and use its best people in the best way it can manage.
A mixture of flexibility, as you've said, which is very important, and
protecting individual mandates and making sure that there is an overall
coordination into which these efforts can slot.
One final point I'd like to make at this moment is that in the case of
extremely complex conflict situations, it is often said that humanitarian
aid is somehow contributing negatively to the situation — that it's shoring
up a regime or doing something that means that a certain group can be kept
going when actually it would be better if they surrendered. But I must stand
for the principle of protection and support of all individual human beings,
wherever they are in the world — children, women and everybody. Warring
parties are at war until they choose not to be at war. They are not at war
because humanitarians are trying to save civilian lives.
So please, I beg people to support the humanitarian operations in Syria,
however complex they are, and I do believe, in spite of what may not be
publicized, that there are a number of organizations that will be doing
their best to open corridors across conflicting lines, trying to deliver
vaccinations on both sides. These things can build into an attitude of
friendship. They can help create the environment for a better solution to
the conflict eventually, even though they don't have an overt role.
I beg you to keep supporting the humanitarian mandates of UNICEF and the
Senator Eaton: Ms. Black, I commend you for what you're saying,
because I think we all agree with you.
What do you think of the Clinton and Gates funds? Are they using UNICEF,
or have they set up a separate apparatus? If so, why have they done that?
Ms. Black: I'm talking now about the Gates foundation, which is
primarily involved in malaria control, HIV treatment, anti-retroviral
treatment and water and sanitation programs. That's my understanding. No, I
don't think they're preventing money from going to UNICEF. UNICEF is very
ebullient in terms of its resources, as far as I know.
My understanding is that they set up their fund in the way they have with
their own programs on the ground — they have country offices and they go
through networks of ministries of health, et cetera — the same as WHO would
do, but the World Health Organization is not a program delivery
organization, primarily, and they didn't believe that it had the networks on
the ground for the delivery of assistance.
My understanding is that they picked countries where there was little
delivery of health care outside UNICEF support to MCH clinics and so on. The
health system needed a boost, particularly for malaria and HIV.
I would say let different organizations come to these problems and try to
contribute. You only have to go to a developing country to realize how vast
they are, how huge the terrain, how complex and difficult they are and how
much support different networks need. There's plenty of room for everybody.
Coordination, yes, but I would think that they've made a definite
contribution over and above what the UN's capacity is.
Senator Andreychuk: I have two questions, one for Dr. Barber and
one for Ms. Black.
Dr. Barber, you talked about the fact that there are some difficulties
with having this coordination within the UN agencies, but my recollection is
that it's the national governments, through the General Assembly and
Security Council apparatus, that were asking for more efficient delivery of
UN agencies, where they are working together. It was not done for some other
reason, except to be more efficient and to be more productive in that.
Is it not the comprehensive role in asylum issues? As you quite rightly
said, UNHCR looks after the refugees, the individuals, but is it not the
role of the General Assembly, the United Nations and the national
governments who make up the UN to exercise their comprehensive oversight
role? I think they are the ones that should be identifying the problems.
If we look at what's going on in the Mediterranean, we see where the
governments are starting to step up to the plate to identify the problems —
those obviously that are more affected — and they're starting to indicate it
is a problem beyond the countries who receive these asylum seekers.
It seems to me there is a mechanism for comprehensive overview, but it's
just not being used at this time. I'd like to you comment on that.
Ms. Black, as I understand UNICEF on the ground when I worked with them,
impartiality and neutrality are very important, but the rights of the
children are also very important. To bolster what you said, it isn't an
either-or situation. You try to help as many people on the ground as you
can; you don't want to leave children behind in jeopardy because it doesn't
neatly fit into a definition or in a mandate.
I've seen UNICEF workers who try to steer the course and work within
their mandates, but their first responsibility has always been on the ground
to protect the children wherever they are, however they are in the
situation. They do risk, therefore, going beyond their mandates because they
choose to balance in favour of children. That has been my experience.
This is where I think some of our discussions have been. How do we ensure
that we keep supporting workers to maximize their efforts to help those on
the ground? Dr. Barber?
Mr. Barber: Thank you very much. You're absolutely right, of
course, that the General Assembly has an annual review of the coordination
mechanisms within the UN system for emergency humanitarian aid. That review
is undertaken based on a report presented by the Secretary-General, but
drafted by the Emergency Relief Coordinator, OCHA — the UN Office for the
Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs — and the other agencies. Yes, that's
the mechanism for the general oversight of coordination arrangements in
There is also a mechanism within the Security Council, and I happen to
have been involved in drafting the first report of the Secretary-General on
the protection of civilians in armed conflict. That is a dialogue, which
continues to this day, between the Emergency Relief Coordinator and the
other parts of the UN humanitarian aid system and the Security Council, to
try and see that the Security Council fulfills its responsibility regarding
the maintenance of peace and security and the provision of secure situations
in which humanitarian organizations can operate.
In each situation, you have a very complex interlinkage between the role
of the national government in that particular situation, the possible role
of the Security Council and then the role of a coordinated approach by the
One of the areas where I personally think there would be a possibility of
some improvement if member states were willing to look at this is that when
the Inter-Agency Standing Committee was established, it brought together UN
agencies, NGOs, NGO coordinating bodies, and also the Red Cross and Red
Crescent societies. This was established by the General Assembly in 1991.
However, they didn't include provision for the coordination of that
effort with bilateral aid organizations, so for example ECHO or USAID or
CIDA is not part of that coordinating arrangement. Personally, I think there
would be some benefit to a more systematic coordination between the various
multilateral and non-governmental efforts, and some of the bilateral efforts
in the humanitarian field. That's just a comment on one possible way of
improving the coordination mechanisms.
Ms. Black: Yes, I think there is no doubt that the fundamental
requirement of the UNICEF staff on the ground is to emphasize the situation
of children. There are certain environments in which we don't often talk
about the rights, even if we know that the Convention on the Rights of the
Child is the grounding basis of all our work. You can imagine that if you
would go to somebody in Somalia, Syria or in some very highly contested
environment — even less contested — and talk about the rights of the child,
it's not going to sound very positive. Rights are very contested. They're
seen as a very Western idea, and even though the convention is almost
universally ratified, people, governments, have often not fully understood
what that is going to mean.
Rather than get into a discourse on rights when you're on the ground
trying to deliver relief assistance in a highly contested environment, you
really want to emphasize needs and the quintessential requirement for
humanity, human life and survival.
The other thing to add to this is that yes, UNICEF is primarily about
children and therefore is also about maternity and women, but it then ends
up also being about families, and you cannot support the child without
supporting the family. UNICEF has particularly taken a lead for water and
sanitation systems, within the UN system, for various historical systems.
You could say where is the connection to children with that? A number of
areas that UNICEF has been involved in were on the basis that children's
lives will be at risk without improving that area of public health or
nutrition. Actually, it extends beyond the immediate child.
That's why, as I said at the beginning, there is almost a sense in which
UNICEF's commitment and mandate to the child has been a sort of Trojan Horse
whereby you could get other things under the bar, appeal to work in
situations where otherwise it might prove to be impossible, where the UN
itself can be rejected because the government refuses the UN entry, those
kinds of very difficult and complex situations.
Bear in mind that it is both the child and the child's environment, and
all the things associated with children, which UNICEF is trying to improve.
Senator Nancy Ruth: I have a question for each of you.
Dr. Barber, your comments about international refugee law interested me,
and I wonder if you could teach me how it has moved from the right to seek
asylum to the right to seek asylum anywhere, and what you would like to do
about it now.
Mr. Barber: If you will recall, the 1951 Convention relating to
the Status of Refugees, which is the bedrock of modern international refugee
law, was limited in time and in geographical space. It applied only to the
continent of Europe and only to events up until 1951.
The protocol of 1967 essentially removed both those restrictions, those
being the geographical limitation and the time limit.
What happens most frequently in practice is that when — for example, take
the Afghan refugee crisis. Millions of refugees fled into the neighbouring
countries, Pakistan and Iran. For many years, those who moved onward to
Europe or North America did so in predominantly legal ways: Either they went
to study, they were accepted on family reunion, they were accepted under a
resettlement quota or they were individuals identified by UNHCR to receive
special care and assistance and were taken by a country.
What we've seen since then is, increasingly, Afghans not accepting that
they have asylum in Pakistan or Iran and making their way with the
assistance of people traffickers and smugglers to Europe and then claiming
asylum in Europe. Because of the nature of the 1967 protocol, advocates have
been able to argue that those claims should be looked at by the authorities
in the respective European country and judged on their merits without taking
into account the way in which the person reached that country.
Again, this may seem harsh, but my own personal view is that such
practices have caused us to put into place inhumane systems — systems in
which people are routinely detained for long periods and in which people's
stories are not believed. And when they are believed, they're told, "Your
story does not make you a refugee; we're going to send you back anyway.''
They have put into place arrangements that are highly stressful and damaging
to everybody concerned.
One of the interesting by-products of the World Humanitarian Summit
discussions that are going on already, in the preparations, is that I
understand that in at least two regions, people are beginning to discuss the
importance of regional legislation to deal with displacement.
You may recall that there is already an African refugee convention. It
was concluded in 1969, called the OAU convention, relating to specific
aspects of the refugee situation in Africa. It seems to me that model could,
with benefit, be used in other parts of the world to assert the
responsibility of states in each region of the world for giving asylum, as
they routinely do already, to people who are victims of persecution or
conflict in neighbouring countries.
This is not to suggest for a moment that if, for example, a Syrian is
living in Canada and is maybe studying or something like that, and the
situation changes in Syria, that it should be open to the Canadian
government to return that person forcibly to Syria, Jordan or Lebanon —
certainly not. The principle of non-refusal must be universal and must
continue to be universal. But the right to claim asylum in a country outside
your own region, in my view, should be circumscribed when you travel from
that region in order to seek asylum somewhere else.
As is the case for Syrians, if there is provision available in Turkey,
Lebanon and Jordan, I would say people who are travelling and using human
smugglers to travel across the Mediterranean or across land borders into
Europe should be assisted to return to Turkey, Jordan or Lebanon and apply.
What is happening is that these people are essentially jumping the queue.
Not only are they putting their own lives at risk, not only are they making
use of illegal people smugglers, but they're dissuading the governments of
Europe from being more generous in the offers that they make for
resettlement for Syrian refugees who would apply from the camps in Jordan,
Lebanon or Turkey.
I would like to see a reshaping of that system so that the principle of
non-refoulement remains completely universal but that the ability to seek
asylum outside the region in which you're living could be circumscribed if
it went with opportunities to seek resettlement from those regions.
Senator Nancy Ruth: If a country like Canada has agreed to take,
say, 10,000 Syrian refugees, what's your response to that?
Mr. Barber: It's absolutely wonderful. I think it's terrific, and
maybe it should be more in the circumstances. But those refugees should be
selected on the basis of criteria established by you and UNHCR from camps in
Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon. They should not have to include people who make
their own way through illegal means to Canada, thereby jumping the queue.
The Chair: We have a few minutes left.
I have been in the region at the border of Turkey and Syria. One of the
things that I noticed is that, while humanitarian principles require that
assistance be provided based on need, assistance levels often depend instead
on the categorization of individuals — for example, refugee, internally
displaced, Palestinian. If he or she is a Palestinian, it goes to United
Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration, UNRRA. It's very
I would like to hear from both of you about what more UNICEF and UNHCR
could do by ensuring that assistance reaches the most vulnerable children,
regardless of organizational mandates, earmarking of funding or other such
barriers. I would start with you, Ms. Black.
Ms. Black: I would say it's always the most difficult thing to
reach the people who are in the worst situation. They are in the worst
situation because they are the most difficult to reach and the most
In policy terms, I think everyone would accept that's the necessity. In
policy terms, I don't know what you can do. You have to enlist the services
of local diplomats, local officials, whoever you can to try to open the door
into those areas, which is usually because it's insecure or under the
control of an alternative militia, all of those kinds of questions.
Quiet, subtle negotiation on the ground is your only possibility. There
were circumstances in the past where, of course, military backup enabled
relief to happen, for example, when the Kurds fled across the Iraq border in
1991. There are situations where a military enforcement from the forces of
the West comes to back it up, but without a military action to support, you
only have argument, diplomacy and so on. I think we have to assist and
support those organizations that have people in their ranks that can
facilitate that kind of activity.
Mr. Barber: That's right. To add on the point of different groups
of people forming under different mandates and organizations, this is really
difficult. It's a practical problem in several situations. I think the only
thing I can suggest is intense levels of cooperation between the
organizations that are involved in delivering different mandates. Also, this
problem is linked to the problem of earmarked funding from different donors,
which sometimes means that you have lots of money available for one group
and no money available for another.
Steps were taken very productively and positively, I think, with the
establishment of the Central Emergency Response Fund in 2005-06. This has
really helped to reduce the level of the kind of problem that you described.
It hasn't eliminated it, but it certainly made it less stark than it was
The Chair: Thank you very much to both of you. We have certainly
appreciated your presentations and learned a lot from you. We look forward
to working with you in the future.
Our next witness will be Mr. Zaid Al-Rawni from Islamic Relief Canada. I
understand you have a presentation to make first. I will ask you to make
that presentation, and we welcome you here today.
Zaid Al-Rawni, CEO, Islamic Relief Canada: Thank you for having me
at the committee and giving me the opportunity to help you in your quest to
answer your question. I haven't worked with UNICEF or UNHCR in any capacity,
so my evidence might be helpful in helping you understand the wider context.
I will tell you first about Islamic Relief Canada, who we are, what we do
and how what we say might be helpful to you, and then I'll go on to talk
about some of the challenges we are facing on the ground in Syria and
Islamic Relief is an independent NGO based in Canada, but we also have
affiliates across the globe. Collectively, the affiliates are probably the
largest Islamic development agency, and we specialize in emergency relief on
the main. So if there is a crisis in the world — an earthquake, floods or
man-made disasters — Islamic Relief tries to respond in accordance with the
humanitarian mandate, and that's principles of impartiality, neutrality,
independence and the like.
Islamic Relief isn't exclusive in its aid delivery. I have worked in
Haiti, the Philippines and South Sudan, helping anyone who needs our help.
There is no agenda; it's just a humanitarian agency delivering aid where
it's needed. In the summer I was in Northern Iraq where, after ISIS broke
out of Syria and the capitulation of the Iraqi army, many Yazidis and
Christians were forced from their homes. Islamic Relief was providing
support to those communities, along with the Sunnis and Shiites who were
also facing some difficulties.
That is who we are, in a nutshell. We have significant operations, and
most of our funding in Canada comes from private individuals and donors. We
attend mosques locally across Canada and solicit funds from the
congregation, explaining what we're doing, who we're helping and why. There
is a positive reaction to our appeals generally, and in Syria specifically
there has been a significant contribution to our campaign. That is how we
spend our funds. We spend inside Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and Northern Iraq,
helping Syrian refugees.
Touching upon the issue of impartiality, international humanitarian law
necessitates that we have to negotiate with people. We have to negotiate
with unsavoury people on occasion, and this is isn't an endorsement of those
characters; it is trying to access people in need. Sadly, where we have been
able to operate geographically, we have been able to operate only in areas
that aren't controlled by the Syrian government because it has granted
licences only to 15 international NGOs.
That was the case late last year, and when licences are provided, there
are a few more hurdles to climb over before you are able to deliver your aid
effectively or reach people in need.
In other parts of Syria, inside Syria, we tend to operate in areas that
are not controlled by ISIS. We tend to operate in areas that are controlled
by the Syrian army, Kurdish organizations and the like.
Outside of Syria, the biggest challenge is that there are obviously a
significant number of refugees in Jordan. We all know about the Zaatari
camp, which hosts some of them, but the majority are living with host
families and host communities in informal settlings. That's also the case in
Turkey and Lebanon. In Lebanon there is no official area, no refugee camp;
there is no Zaatari camp. The challenges for Syrian refugees are very
Then you have the circumstances for children specifically. We tend to
take a holistic approach at Islamic Relief. We respond to the problem as
holistically as possible. Our mandate is general humanitarian assistance, so
we're not specific to children like UNICEF or Save the Children.
We do know that with education, for example, 10 per cent of the children
living in Jordan are Syrian refugees, and in Lebanon a quarter of the
children are Syrian refugees. Inside Syria, the IDPs, or internally
displaced people, have limited access to education. Probably the single
biggest challenge that children face specifically, and that we as an agency,
other NGOs and UN agencies are trying to help with, is ensuring those
children have access to education. It's difficult.
There is talk of schools in Jordan and Lebanon doing double shifts, so
you have a school in the morning for the local host communities then you
have a school in the evening for Syrian refugees. In Lebanon, with the
curriculum being in Arabic, English and French, it's far more difficult for
children who are coming from Syria, where the syllabus is purely in Arabic,
to smooth themselves into the curriculum, pass exams, develop or grow.
That is one challenge.
The other challenge is the difficulties for the family and the host
communities. In Lebanon and Jordan, people aren't allowed to work; fathers
and mothers aren't allowed to work, so this obviously affects the entire
family and children. These are some huge complications for families in
Jordan and Lebanon. Needless to say, the circumstances for children inside
cities and for internally displaced persons are probably the hardest.
This is a general overview of the challenges we're facing and that the
refugees and IDPs are facing inside Syria.
Before I end, our biggest concern as Islamic Relief Canada or NGOs,
generally — the humanitarian community — is the protracted length of this
crisis. The crisis is, in essence, political. It's not a natural disaster,
which you can mitigate, or there's a big shock to the system and it's done.
It's kind of a long-drawn-out political crisis, and you have two opposing
Then the international elements are feeding into the local hostilities,
making humanitarian response very messy. There is no clean humanitarian
response; it's very messy inside Syria and in Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan —
the entire context. Because it's so political, so fraught and because
there's so much added tensions from so many different factors, it's made for
a very challenging operation for our teams on the ground and for us as an
Also, I'm sure you've heard from many other witnesses that the complexity
and unconventional nature of this crisis makes it very difficult for us to
respond adequately and give children their due rights.
The Chair: Thank you very much for your presentation. I'd like to
start with one question. There are many agencies working — within the Assad,
outside with the rebels, but also in the borders — just helping everybody.
We are looking at the mandates of the UNHCR and UNICEF, and it would be
helpful for us here today to hear from you as to how you see on the ground
those mandates of the UNHCR and UNICEF working and also how you work with
UNHCR and UNICEF to provide humanitarian aid.
Mr. Al-Rawni: Practically, on the ground, agencies like ours work
with UN agencies at many different levels, and these are mainly coordinated
through OCHA. There are normally huge meetings whenever there's a crisis.
People sit down and say, "What are we working on collectively? Let's try to
coordinate our efforts.''
When I was in Darfur in 2004, I noticed quite early on when we first
arrived that there were two, three or four agencies doing the exact same
thing and providing the exact same service. In one camp, you would have four
sets of water service providers but nobody providing food or education. It
was badly coordinated.
But as we talked to each other over time, we got better at coordinating,
helping and ensuring that as much work as possible was carried between the
various agencies, both UN and non-UN agencies, to ensure help is spread as
widely as possible and as appropriately as possible.
The other problem is that — and some of my colleagues before the previous
witnesses spoke of this — people tend to go to easily accessible areas. The
hard-to-reach areas are areas where sometimes even UN agencies either can't,
won't or don't have access to because of local actors.
So when we're dealing with UN agencies like UNHCR, UNICEF and the World
Food Programme, we tell them the areas we've managed to access. Sometimes
these are areas they haven't been able to access. They will use the teams we
have, or the teams that Islamic Relief Canada is able to use, to deliver aid
in those areas.
That's how we work together — through the OCHA mechanism.
The Chair: When I was in Darfur, there were areas that the UN
would say you cannot go to for safety reasons, but other smaller NGOs did
take the risk. The UN has its protocol; I'm not being critical of the UN.
I'm just saying there were areas the UN could not go to.
Is that where you go — I don't mean just Islamic Relief Canada, but other
smaller NGOs, to access people and get more humanitarian aid? How do you
decide which areas you go to?
Mr. Al-Rawni: I'm sorry if I repeat some points from previous
witnesses. The UN has lost some of its clout, and it's seen as less
impartial than maybe it once was. Previously, maybe when you had two global
superpowers fighting for global dominance, it was safe to have everyone
agree the UN should be a safe space that nobody ought to interfere with or
Since the collapse of the USSR, there has been one dominant, global
superpower. Maybe there's been less regard for the UN's impartiality, or,
more importantly, the perception on the ground from local actors is that the
UN itself is actually following an agenda, especially the humanitarian
agencies within the UN — I'm not talking so much about other agencies, but
the humanitarian agencies — are less impartial than they are, in fact.
This has led to the UN becoming probably more risk-averse than smaller
agencies like ours are, or bigger agencies like MSF, who do take risks and
do take bold moves and go to areas nobody else will access. Agencies like
Islamic Relief, MSF and others do have a higher threshold in what they're
willing to risk.
It's one of those added benefits. We're a Western agency; we're not based
in the East but in Canada, the United States, London, Brussels and others.
We're also a Muslim agency. In the context of places like Somalia, Darfur,
Syria, Afghanistan and other places, we can sometimes, through discussions
and dialogue, negotiate better access than other agencies.
This isn't always the case. The al Shabaab group in Somalia kicked us out
after a few years there. We've had difficulties in other areas, too, but on
some occasions, we can get further. When we are able to do that, we take
those opportunities and use whatever leverage we can in order to access
areas that aren't touched.
So, yes, we do reach a little bit further in, but there are still areas
that even small agencies like ours or bolder agencies have difficulty
Senator Ataullahjan: Do you feel that NGOs or agencies such as
yours are sometimes better equipped to deal with crises, specifically like
those in the Middle East? You have a cultural understanding of the
situation, and you know what is appropriate and how to approach people. Do
you feel that gives you an edge over some of the other agencies?
Mr. Al-Rawni: It would depend on the circumstance. It's true we're
more nimble and less bureaucratic than UN agencies. Absolutely; I don't
think anybody would argue against the position that smaller agencies, NGOs,
maybe even Islamic Relief Canada and the like are more nimble. We can adapt
far more quickly. We have fewer staff on our team. If there is a new
internal policy within Islamic Relief Canada and the like, we can act more
In some circumstances, and I think Syria is one such circumstance, that
nimbleness, flexibility and adaptability are an asset and give us an
advantage, I guess.
In other circumstances, the mammoth UN agencies are exactly what is
needed. You need the big bureaucracy. You need the agency that has plane
after plane and can do food drops and can use 15 or 16 four-by-fours to get
to geographically hard-to-reach places, not security-related.
It depends upon the circumstance. I wouldn't say it's one way or the
other. In the Middle East, yes, given the complexity and the changing fault
lines, maybe there's a bit of an advantage.
Senator Ataullahjan: Do you feel that the UNHCR is as culturally
sensitive as it could be?
Mr. Al-Rawni: That's an interesting question. I wouldn't know how
to answer that. Somebody who has had services from the UNHCR might be able
to answer that better than I could. It would be difficult for me to answer
Senator Eggleton: First of all, before we adjourn, I'd like to
address the committee on the matter of a report on this issue. If we could
end this session with Mr. Al-Rawni with sufficient time to do that. I only
need a couple of minutes.
The Chair: We could do it afterwards privately.
Senator Eggleton: No. I prefer to do it with the committee.
Mr. Al-Rawni, first of all, thank you for what you do. You're helping a
situation that seems to be getting worse and worse, but every little bit
helps, and you're doing it from here in Canada, which is a good thing to do.
Could you tell me about your cooperation levels and levels of assistance
that you get from governments in Canada, specifically the federal and
provincial governments? Do you have coordination assistance, good relations
in dealing with this matter with governments?
Mr. Al-Rawni: You mean with the Canadian government?
Senator Eggleton: The Canadian government, but also the provincial
governments if they come into play on this. Maybe they don't.
Mr. Al-Rawni: Our mandate is primarily overseas, so we do
communicate regularly with CRA and others on what we're doing overseas, and
communicating with our donors about what we're doing overseas.
In 2012, the government gave us some financial support for our work in
Somalia, so there was substantial collaboration for that specific food
delivery project post-famine in Somalia. Provincially, we haven't had much
by way of any formal dealings. We've had events where we've been present and
representatives from the provincial government have been present, but there
has been no formal interaction.
Senator Eggleton: But you're not running into barriers with
Mr. Al-Rawni: No.
Senator Eggleton: What do you think — not just in your work but
overall — the Canadian government should be doing more with respect to this
problem of Syrian refugees?
Mr. Al-Rawni: That's a big question. The biggest challenge for
this crisis in Syria is that you have 12 million people who have been
displaced from their homes, divided between internally displaced persons,
who are living in some cases under blankets and branches, the kind of thing
you do in Scouts on a survival weekend. But that is their life month after
month, dragging into years, difficult circumstances. Then you have the
tragedies we're seeing now with thousands of people drowning in the
Mediterranean because they're so eager to get out.
The answer to that is maybe creating safer spaces in the neighbouring
countries where most host communities are absorbing, and that's normally the
case. There's a lot of kerfuffle in Europe and parts of the world about the
number of refugees coming to their countries from Syria and wherever else in
the world. Most of the world's refugees are normally absorbed by the
neighbouring countries. They're under huge strain. In Jordan, the government
recently stopped its services. It had previously allowed free services,
medical services for Syrian refugees, but the strain of carrying that burden
has been very difficult for them. It is the same with Lebanon, if they felt
they weren't absorbing this huge influx. Their population has increased by a
third in the last four years because of the number of Syrian refugees who
have come into Lebanon. That's another area where supporting these host
communities and local governments to deal with some of these challenges is
Then you have the question of increasing the quota of people who are able
to apply for asylum in Canada. That could be a thing. I'm not by any means
an expert. This is just a very general answer of what might help the
situation. But I think the biggest challenge is in helping. I don't know if
Turkey is asking for help, but the neighbouring countries, Jordan Iraq,
Lebanon, and maybe Turkey if that's something the government has asked for.
Senator Eggleton: On the helping of people in situ in the refugee
camps or in the communities in Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, et cetera, one of
the biggest problems for children that keeps coming up is education and the
desire to not have a lost generation of people. The difficulty with
education is that they can't see beyond some very primary or maybe even some
secondary education, but there doesn't appear to be an ability to go beyond
that, which creates a loss of hope for a lot of these people, and that leads
to the risk of a lost generation.
This war has been going on for a number of years now. There's no
indication of when it will end. It could go on for many more years, which
increases this problem of a lost generation.
What do you think the Canadian government or the Western governments in
general could do about this?
Mr. Al-Rawni: Again that goes back to supporting host communities.
One of the recommendations from the U.K. government, for example, was that
they really pushed the idea of double shifts in schools. You can't build any
more schools. You can't create any more educational establishments because
you don't know how long these children will remain in the country, and
there's just no funding for it. There isn't the funding to do that kind of
thing. So, it's using school premises for morning shifts and then evening
shifts, increasing the number of teachers, increasing the number of
resources available for children, pens, pencils, and giving them these basic
facilities. Primary education is key. Post- secondary education is also
Many studies say — we did a study with UNICEF, Save the Children and
Islamic Relief Canada a few years ago — if primary education is neglected at
that age, the consequences for many years, decades to come, is immensely
negative. It is really key that creative ideas are sought, found and funded
so that children, especially at the primary age, aren't neglected. There
should be no circumstance where a child can't read and write because he or
she has no access to primary school education.
Senator Eggleton: I have one more question on this, because I hear
what you're saying in terms of the Canadian government and other governments
helping to facilitate this. But let's take Lebanon, for example, where
they're absorbed into the community. There are, I understand, some legal
restrictions, government rules as to how far they can go in terms of
education, and that they can't get the kind of education that they really
need. How could that be overcome?
Mr. Al-Rawni: Private service providers, and that being funded.
Obviously the refugees don't have resources to pay for private education.
The rules apply to public education and public institutions. It's not just
for education. The Lebanese government is very nervous, given its history
with refugee communities who have come in for one, two, three years, and
suddenly in 50, 60, 70 years they have become part of Lebanese society. You
have two of the biggest camps just outside Beirut, and other camps set up as
temporary shelters for Palestinian refugees in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s.
Now they're permanent settlements. Their nerves are almost understandable.
You have to find creative solutions to get around their reluctance; you're
right. Maybe private educational facilities might be an option.
Senator Tannas: Thank you for being here today. Maybe more for
curiosity than anything else, I know in Canada and probably across North
America, perhaps further, there's a rising prevalence of earmarking amongst
donors. They want specifically to direct where their money goes.
I'm wondering, first, if that is the same in the Islamic community, if
that is increasing. Second, do you see this earmarking phenomenon as
something that is interfering with efficiencies on the ground in places of
need, or do you have a concern that it will be soon?
Mr. Al-Rawni: I only have access to our donors and the trends
inside our organization, but there definitely is a trend of people saying,
"I want my money to go here, X.'' In some cases, people come to us with a
project, and sometimes they are people from diaspora communities who have
very specific, good, useful knowledge about the area. Let's use Syria as an
example. They know the terrain. They know the challenges. They know the
shortcomings. They come to us and say, "We've come to you. You're a
charitable organization, and we want to give you $100,000 to do X.''
Islamic Relief won't engage in that type of request. What we do say is,
"Here are the needs assessments our teams have done. Here's what our teams
have found is needed. If you insist that your funds go specifically to
Syria, these are the projects we will be funding. If you wish to continue
engaging with us, we'll give you a report at the end of your project so that
you're aware of how your money has been spent.''
But we wouldn't engage in the first type, where somebody says, "I want
you to do one, two, three, four and five.'' No. We understand people respond
to what's on their screens and what they're reading in the papers. That's
okay. Sometimes the media reports help us in our fundraising efforts. People
see bad-news stories and want to contribute. There's an innate kind of
goodness globally — it's universal — to reach out and help your fellow
human. We will do that in some senses.
To your second question, does it inhibit our work? Every single charity
and NGO and agency will tell you, "Just give me the cash and let me carry
on.'' But the reality of soliciting funds from private donors is that you
have to respect the private donor's wishes. You can't have the lofty
arrogance of saying, "Listen, you don't know what's going on. I've lived in
Darfur. I know exactly what's needed. Let me tell you.'' It's a
conversation, and you have to have the humility to say, "Okay, let's have a
conversation and see if I can convince you that what you're asking me isn't
ideal and if I can divert your funds for something else.''
Generally, when we have conversations with people where there is, for
example, overfunding for projects in Lebanon — it's never been the case, but
let's just assume it is; our team is at full capacity in Northern Lebanon
and we have no more space — we say to people, "Thank you, but actually
there's a project in Jordan that needs your support. It's helping Syrian
refugees; it's really an exciting project that has these benefits.'' The
response is positive once the conversation starts, but that's the key.
Senator Eaton: The host countries right now around Syria —
Lebanon, Jordan, I guess even Turkey — seem to be playing a bigger role. Is
this because a lot of the refugees are not going into camps but settling in
the cities themselves, or is this saying something about the effectiveness
of UNHCR? How are they coping with the fact that the host countries
themselves are taking on a bigger role?
Mr. Al-Rawni: I'll point to the Jordanian circumstance. The UNHCR
has the Zaatari camp, which they've set up. It's hosting quite a few
families, but that isn't where most refugee families are staying. Most
refugee families are staying in host communities and villages, working in
the black market, doing whatever they can, renting, using their savings,
finding alternative means. That's simply because the scale has taken
everybody by surprise. Nobody expected this. I remember conversations with
colleagues from Oxfam, maybe two years ago or a year and a half ago, and
they were almost saying, "This Syrian crisis is going to go like Libya.
Initial stages, flash in the pan; it's going to end. We have no business
getting involved. We can't see a mandate for ourselves.'' Now Oxfam has a
huge presence across the entire region because the length has taken
everybody by surprise. How long it's lasted, the consequences and the
humanitarian need have taken everybody by surprise.
Why those host countries are possibly absorbing so much is a geographical
accident. It's where people can get to first and feel safe. The biggest
reason people flee their homes is safety. That's the first thing if you look
at Maslow's hierarchy of needs. It's, "I have to feel safe; I have to feel a
little safer than I do right now.'' So they just run. They stop running at
the first place they feel safer, and then they start to deal with
circumstances around them.
Senator Eaton: You're an Islamic relief organization, which is
wonderful, because I know how charitable the Islamic faith is. But you're
also divided in the sense of Shia and Sunni. Does that affect you? Can you
go anywhere, or is it very hard for you to remain non-partisan? How do you
cope with that?
Mr. Al-Rawni: In areas where sectarianism isn't an issue, we cope
with it very normally and naturally. In areas where sectarianism is an
issue, it's a challenge, but it's not one that prevents us from doing the
work we need to do. In our organization, we do have —
Senator Eaton: So both sides accept you?
Mr. Al-Rawni: Both sides accept us on the main. The majority of
Muslims in the world are Sunni. Ninety per cent are Sunni, and 10 per cent
are Shia. We help non-Muslims, atheists, animists, Buddhists, whoever needs
our help. We're not really an organization that is restricted to a religion,
let alone a sectarian faction within a religion. But, in the circumstances
in Syria, interestingly, the political divide seems to be based on sectarian
affiliation. It's very complex on a political level more than on a sectarian
level. We don't have a problem. Again, I say we have Sunnis and Shias and
Christians and atheists in our organization. It's based on Islamic values of
charitable giving, but anybody is welcome to join us in our mission to
support people in need. In the Iranian earthquake in 2006, I think it was,
we responded. We were welcomed, and there was no issue with Islamic Relief
attending. In Lebanon, we responded. There were Shia communities from
previous crises, and there was no issue. In Pakistan, where there are
predominantly Sunni communities, we responded. Nobody has said, "Hold on,
tell me who you are first. Tell me: Are you Sunni? Are you Shia?'' However,
once you have a long-term presence, people are looking for a badge. Who do
you belong to? That does create challenges for our staff on the ground. Some
of our staff have challenges. What they do is go out in pairs. They go out
Sunni and Shia. They deliver aid. They deliver in person. If the person
asking the question is from one faction, you would answer, or you would
answer, depending. You find creative ways.
On the main, it's a stinker, so to speak, that there is such
sectarianism. You see it in Northern Ireland. You see it in different parts
of the world. It's unhelpful and unhealthy for communities to have that,
but, in terms of affecting our ability to deliver, it hasn't manifested
itself in stopping us from delivering our aid.
Senator Andreychuk: We were talking about the scale of the
humanitarian issues in Syria, and you gave some reasons why it is that way.
One of the reasons on ground that I heard is that many of the people who
came from Syria into particularly Jordan have been coming and going, hoping
that the conflict would be resolved. In this conflict, for some reason, more
people are still at the point of hoping to go back. So there isn't that kind
of permanency that goes into camps and then wishes to be replaced elsewhere.
Do you find that?
Mr. Al-Rawni: I haven't met a single person in my travels in
Northern Iraq or wherever else, saying "Yes, this is now home; thank God.''
No, everyone is hopeful and waiting. They have businesses. They have farms.
The life of a refugee isn't a pretty life. It's a very tragic and miserable
life, if I can use such language. It's not something anybody would choose to
live. Syria was a middle-income country before this crisis. It wasn't on the
bottom half of the global scale of income. It was a middle-income country,
doing okay. Most people had jobs. They struggled like anybody in the world,
but they had jobs. They had dignity. They had security. They had the things
that people search for in a good life. Yes, I absolutely agree with that,
that most people are looking for an end. If you ask most Syrians, "Would you
like the war to end today, a settlement to be reached,'' everyone I've
spoken to is a positive yes, whatever it takes, yes. Sadly, the
circumstances, the entrenched positions, the regional and the global
situation are probably making it more complex than most Syrians would like
it to be. Yes, everyone wants to go back home and look after their farms and
go back to their businesses.
Senator Nancy Ruth: Thank you for being here. You were asked
whether, in your agency and in your work, your staff was more culturally
sensitive than that of the UNHCR or UNICEF. I was confused by the question
because my understanding is, especially given your response to Senator
Tannas, that you almost adopt projects in an area, and they may have local
staff. It's also my understanding that UNICEF and UNHCR also use local
staff. There may be some from Canada, such as yourself or whoever else, who
are not nationals. Do you see a big difference in terms of cultural
sensitivity between the UN organizations and your own relief organization?
Mr. Al-Rawni: Perception is probably where it would differ. Most
UN agencies try to be culturally sensitive when they are on the ground. I
don't sense at least that there is a deliberate attempt to be insensitive to
people's local sensibilities. However, perception is where the local
population might perceive the UN agency as X and our agency as Y. So that's
where the difference might be. That's owing to maybe geopolitical
circumstances. The history of UN agencies' involvement in Afghanistan and
Iraq and their relationship with the military of this government or that
government might have something to do with why these perceptions exist.
Senator Nancy Ruth: That would be a major problem in terms of
those agencies being as effective as they could be?
Mr. Al-Rawni: It's a challenge for them, certainly. It's a
challenge for all of us. Delivering aid is very challenging because you have
so many hurdles. You want to help. You see a need, but there are so many
hurdles that get in the way, or can sometimes inhibit your ability to help:
from cultural sensitivities; understanding the context; having a real, deep
understanding of the terrain; and all these things. Then you have global
laws, how to operate, counterterror laws and all those things coming into
place. We have as many challenges as UN agencies have in delivering aid. Is
it easier for us to access areas? Are we more quickly accepted? I think
that's a strange word to use, "accepted,'' but can people work with us more
quickly? Are they less suspicious? Do drop their guard? Probably, but then
we have a second set of challenges that the UN agencies don't even have to
think about. So it's ultimately in terms of delivering aid. Everyone faces
their own unique sets of challenges. UN agencies and small agencies have
their challenges. Medium-size agencies like ours, like Oxfam, Save the
Children, UNICEF and others have their challenges. At the end it kind of
settles itself out. Who is better at delivering? Again, I go back to my
first answer, which is circumstance. In different circumstances we are
probably much better at delivering aid. In other circumstances, maybe the UN
agencies are far better at delivering aid.
The Chair: Thank you very much for your answers. We have
appreciated your presence, and you have enriched our work. A question came
up about Turkey. I just came back from Turkey, which has 2 million refugees,
and they spend $30 million a month, so they are looking for help.
Mr. Al-Rawni: I wish you all the best. I look forward to your
The Chair: I will go on to an administrative matter. Senator
Eggleton has a question.
Senator Eggleton: My comment is this: We have had some excellent
witnesses on this subject. I think out of that we've got a pretty good
picture of the terrible conditions that exist for Syrian refugees. I
particularly note the comments that have been made about children, with so
many of them displaced, so many of them having a very challenging future,
the risk of a lost generation. I think it's time to do a report. We're
running out of time for this session of Parliament.
This is a crisis that isn't getting better. There are a lot of different
organizations doing their best, such as the one we just heard from. But I
think if there is anything useful we can do in this, in terms of our
recommendations, which would largely be centred to the Canadian government
because we are part of the Parliament of Canada, now is the time to do that.
Now is the time to pull that report together and get it to the Senate for
consideration before we adjourn.
This is a crisis. I think we all know that. It's time to get the report.
Senator Andreychuk: I would echo that. I think that we have had
some excellent witnesses, so I commend the steering committee and the
researchers for finding them because they have covered the things that we
I'm concerned that there is a new UNHCR director coming in, and we might
be able to say something useful in that regard, and that is in June. If we
could get the report out, it would be helpful in that way.
Also, I'm worried that if we don't file a report before we leave in June
then we're in the inevitable election and the inevitable problems and
delays. Then our excellent witnesses' testimony will be out of date.
Whatever we could do to expedite the report, I think it would be extremely
helpful. I think we have touched the major issues. I agree with Senator
The Chair: Thank you very much to both of you. The anxiety you
have, the steering committee has as well. I can assure you we have the same
anxiety as you have. We live with this more than the rest of the committee
We did meet yesterday, and there are some gaps that the analyst has
identified. One of the big challenges is we were hoping to get something
from OCHA, and they have declined to come. So has IOM. We're still hoping to
get something because we need some information from OCHA. So as soon as we
get that — we are hoping to finish the last witnesses by the seventh. The
analyst is working really hard to get us a report as soon as possible. I can
speak on behalf of all of the steering committee, that we are as anxious as
both of you are to get a report out. We certainly are working towards that.
Hopefully, as soon as our witnesses are done, with the help of the analysts
— both of them are working really hard — we will have something in front of
Senator Eggleton: I appreciate all of that, but I believe that we
should have that report definitely to the Senate, before the Senate
adjourns. I think that becomes the paramount objective.
The Chair: Senator, we heard you. I told you that's also our
Senator Eggleton: I know, but —
The Chair: We're not sleeping, trust me.
Senator Eggleton: I want it accomplished. I want there to be a
report here and sent to the Senate before it adjourns.
The Chair: We heard you.
Senator Eaton: Otherwise we know it falls off, so we have every
intention of doing that.