First responders in war-torn Syria feel ‘abandoned’ by international community, report reveals

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Tuesday 28 November 2017

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First responders providing emergency aid to civilians in horrific conditions in Syria’s war-torn cities feel ‘abandoned’ by the international community, a survey found.

The organisations and individuals – first to the scene of devastating attacks on civilians in the country’s towns and cities - are frustrated with what they perceive as a lack of military or humanitarian interventions by international groups, according to a report by Coventry University’s Centre for Trust, Peace and Social Relations.

It is the first research carried out into the capacities and practices of first responders in Syria’s opposition-held territories.

The survey respondents say more recognition and support – including better first aid training - needs to be given to local people who carry out these civilian protection activities, such as lifting survivors from rubble, emergency first aid and transport to hospitals. 

More than 500 representatives from the White Helmets, Free Syrian Police, local NGOs, as well as councillors and medical professionals completed the survey, and a further 35 took part in additional interviews.

The results revealed there are very low levels of trust or expectation among respondents regarding the international community, especially surrounding political pressure to end the war and the support given to domestic first responders.

Respondents say resources and training should be transferred to local groups to equip them to protect civilians better, as the international organisations have not been able to do enough to help.
They say they also need better training in first aid to provide treatment for crush, blast, burn and gassing injuries, with improved coordination between different agencies also key, in their opinion, to strengthening their response.   

The groups and individuals who responded all carry out day-to-day emergency response to the prolonged conflict, which has left thousands of civilians dead, with many of the fatalities due to bomb or poison gas attacks on schools, hospitals and residential areas.

The research project, funded by the UK Department for International Development (DFID), aimed to build up a picture of the challenges facing Syrian first responders, how they operate and what support they need. 

It’s hoped that the international humanitarian community will act on its recommendations and work towards improvements, which could ultimately help save lives of innocent people caught up in war, both in Syria and elsewhere.

The research was presented at an international conference on humanitarian responses in urban crises in London, organised by the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED).

All the data was collected by a Syrian partner organisation under difficult and risky conditions. 
The research was undertaken in a paper-free environment and under conditions of anonymity, to protect both the respondents and the research staff gathering the data.

Report author Chas Morrison said:


“This was very challenging and hazardous research to carry out, but vitally important if we are to understand the difficulties experienced by Syria’s first responders and civil protection teams and to improve the situation they are working in.


The original aim of this research was not to critique the international community, but it was a strongly expressed element of our respondents’ perceptions.


There were very low levels of trust or expectation among respondents regarding the international community, with many saying they felt completely abandoned. The international assistance they want now is more in terms of training opportunities than equipment.


International support must adapt to the needs of local first responders and requirements on the ground, rather than local people meeting funders’ needs.”


For further press information, please contact Alison Martin, press officer, Coventry University, on 02477659752 or email


The full report can be viewed here or can be sent as a pdf on request.