SOHR exclusive | Do online donation campaigns contribute to improving conditions of displaced people in Syria?! • The Syrian Observatory For Human Rights

SOHR exclusive | Do online donation campaigns contribute to improving conditions of displaced people in Syria?!

Every winter displaced people in refugee camps in north Syria region are plagued with harsh weather, floods and heavy rain and snowfall which worsen their sufferings further, especially these people are already enduring dire living conditions. In recent years, a new method for helping displaced people in north Syria has become prevalent, where some charities, humanitarian organizations and content creators have launched several campaigns and initiatives for collecting donations for these people.


These diverse campaigns aim to support vulnerable families affected during winter through providing food and materials for heating and replacing tents by residential blocks; and they vary in terms of the size of the donations collected, the number of the families they help, and the methods of delivering assistance and donations to north Syria. Many families in north Syria region have expressed their happiness with such campaigns, as they see them as “welcome movements” for relieving their sufferings in light of the dramatic developments in Syria, especially since no workable solution looms on the horizon still, which could potentially lead to their return to their areas. However, some residents see that these initiatives and fundraising campaigns are “fake” and those who launch such campaigns trade in the sufferings of the Syrian people and care only about serving their own interests.


One of the most popular fundraising campaigns recently has been the campaign launched by the Kuwaiti YouTuber Hassan Suleiman “Abu Fella”, where he launched a live stream on his YouTube channel with the aim of reaching 10,000,000 USD to help displaced families in several Arab countries, including Syria.The YouTuber spent, with several friends, 12 days in a glass room near “Burj Khalifa” in Dubai, “Abu Fella” managed to reach his goal. The campaign attracted the attention of media outlets and popular vloggers, and “Abu Fella” entered the Guinness Book of Records for the longest charitable live stream on YouTube. It is worth noting that the UN Refugee Agency “UNHCR” sponsored this campaign and was responsible for delivering the support to refugees.


Abu Fella’s campaign was followed by “Molham Volunteering Team” live-streaming from a tent in north Syria region on Facebook and YouTube, with the aim of collecting 400,000 USD to help displaced people to move from tents to cement houses which cost 4,000 USD each. The team later decided to set and new goal of reaching 1,000,000 USD and continued its live streams. Even after collecting the 1,000,000 USD, the team continued the live streams to collect more money and help more families. Many Syria content creators, artists and activists participated in this campaign by providing donations and sharing the live stream on their accounts and pages.


Moreover, many Syrian users of TikTok have also turned to post live streams and collect “coins” they win when gifts are sent by the followers on the application, where every one million “coins” is worth nearly 2,000 USD. The users can then send this money to displaced families in north Syria. In addition, hundreds of video clips are posted on social media showing considerable damage to the tents which have been hit by the current spell of harsh weather, including the heavy rain and snowfall, which has worsened their hardship.


Speaking to the Syrian Observatory, an activist known by his initials as A. A. says “although the fundraising campaigns are insufficient to bring about a comprehensive improvement of the displaced people’s dire living conditions in the Syrian refugee camps, they relatively contribute to improving the conditions of several families. Unfortunately, there are some fundraisers who have overused the suffering of the displaced people whose crisis has been turned into a ’trend’ in order to increase the number of their followers, especially those who have launched fundraising campaigns through the TikTok live stream.”


The activist explains, “such campaigns are unreliable, as anyone who has an account on TikTok with more than 1,000 followers enjoys live streaming function. In addition, there are some people who take advantage of official campaigns launched by reliable bodies and internationally recognised organisations. Moreover, another phenomenon has appeared, where some people launch donation campaigns to collect money for their own use, so that they can buy medicine, houses and for other purposes. In general, most of these campaigns have become random and lack credibility.”


“Charitable organisations and foundations that launch fundraising campaigns must document the delivery of donations and aid to those who deserve them fairly, so that there will no doubts about the credibility of such campaigns. ‘Molham Volunteering Team’ was one of the first organisations initiated into such campaigns in Syria. We hope that there will be cooperation, coordination and intensified efforts by all organisations to save the camps’ inhabitants from their tragedy,” he added.


On the other hand, some people argue that these campaigns have no positive effects on the ground and failed to lend a helping hand to the displaced people, distrusting organizations operating in northern Syria.


A displaced man known by his initials H. A. from the western Hama countryside and living now in a camp in north Idlib countryside, said “I seek to help my 12-year-old child with cerebral atrophy and paraplegia. After exerting major effort to communicate with a humanitarian organisation, the organisation officials promised to give my child a ‘wheelchair.’ A few days later, the organisation’s staff arrived at the camp with the wheelchair which they took back to the organisation. They justified their action saying they were not able to reach my tent because of the rough road!”


Commenting on fundraising campaigns, the man said “I see that the Syrian migrants living abroad and expatriates could deliver their donations directly, as they do not have to wait for donation and fundraising campaigns by organisations or content creators. In my opinion, there must be more awareness, while surveillance and censorship have to be imposed over these campaigns, regardless of the residents’ mistrust of these charitable initiatives, so that the displaced persons can be assured that these campaigns will help them and make their situations better.”


It is worth noting that refugee camps in northern Syria are experiencing harsh weather, including snowfall and heavy rain, which have strongly hit and affected dozens of camps for days, while most families are suffering from a severe shortage of basic essentials such as food, and materials used for heating.

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