Letters: Under Isis or not, civilians have right to get aid

These letters appear in 19th July issue of The Independent

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Aid from the West being used to bankroll Isis in Syria” (18 July) – how surprising to read this in The Independent; the tone and misleading nature of the headline are irresponsible.

The headline suggests there is something to be exposed: that aid is being misappropriated. Yet this is clearly not the case, according to the rest of the article, which explains how aid is being effectively distributed.

That humanitarian aid is reaching people who are living under Isis is a success story, not a scandal. As a neutral and impartial humanitarian organisation, the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement operates according to the principle that humanitarian assistance should reach the people who need it most, no matter who they are, where they are or what government or regime they are living under. We believe that all civilians should have access to the assistance they need, regardless of whether they are in Isis-controlled areas.

Aid agencies operate in some of the most insecure and remote areas of the world. Staff and volunteers often take extraordinary risks to reach those worst affected by disaster and conflict, as demonstrated by the tragic loss of 44 Red Crescent volunteers in Syria.

Articles like this are at best unhelpful, and at worst impact the ability of humanitarian organisations to access those most in need.

Mike Adamson, Acting Chief Executive British Red Cross, London EC2

 

If the headline about the West “bankrolling Isis” was not misleading enough, the report linking aid to towns “which have witnessed beheadings, crucifixions...” seemed to suggest that aid should not be delivered to civilian populations trapped in areas under the control of proscribed organisations.

But the consequence of such an inhumane approach is mass starvation. 

The article then quotes the Department for International Development stating that it does not fund Isis, but goes on to quote Bashar al-Assad on the price to be paid by Western states in supporting terrorism.

The less sensational points in the article, such as the statement that aid in these areas is largely distributed by Syrian relief committees which pre-existed Isis, or that aid workers can operate largely unhindered in Isis-controlled areas, is lost by conflating this with Isis’s own aid (and fuel) distribution, funded from its own Gulf donors and the spoils of war.

Ironically, this unhindered access contrasts with regular interference with aid distribution in regime-held areas of Syria which has made NGOs, in some cases, pawns in the Assad regime’s “submit or starve” policy.

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency, for example, was only sporadically allowed into the besieged suburb of Yarmouk, Damascus (where my in-laws have been trapped). NGOs such as Mercy Corps that dare to deliver aid to opposition-held areas get booted out of regime-held areas.

As a charity lawyer with a particular focus on this region, I advise international NGOs on operating in high-risk areas – it is a principle of international humanitarian law that civilians in conflicts on all sides have a right to material assistance, and even our breathtakingly wide counter-terrorism laws do not criminalise negotiating access to civilians in areas under the control of terrorist organisations.

We should be doing everything we can to support the civilian victims of the largest humanitarian catastrophe of this century, rather than chasing the latest headline.

I am proud of the British Government’s commitment to humanitarian relief and to organisations like Mercy Corps and the World Food Programme which deliver life-saving aid in the most difficult of circumstances and hope readers will join me in continuing to donate to this worthy cause.

Augustus Della-Porta, Cambridge

 

Privatisation of suffering

While I am religious, my concerns about the Assisted Dying Bill are not based on my religious beliefs, at least not directly. What really bothers me is the fact  that what we are seeing is the privatisation of suffering.

At the moment, the people who are in these desperate and tragic situations are of public concern, both in terms of the cost and the fact that we can see it.

The question of the cost of the treatment involved is one that no one is asking, nor should it be. But while in public hospitals, the suffering of the people in these situations is a very public suffering, and that is the problem.

I believe that the suffering will be moved from the public sphere, where we as a society would be forced to respond, to the private sphere, the houses and the minds of those who, while not in extremis, are forced now to ask the question: given that the opportunity for assisted dying exists, do I need to be here?

That is suffering, a different kind of suffering, a very private suffering but suffering nonetheless.

Matthew Thomas, London SE6

 

In 1992 my father was dying of liver, bowel and lung cancer. The morphine was kept high on a kitchen shelf, to be administered by the community nurse each day and, towards the end, there were days when he considered self-administering a lethal dose.

He made the decision to be hospitalised, first and foremost to rid himself of the option of suicide. I would have understood him taking that option, but he felt it was more important to let the staff in the hospice monitor the pain relief so that he could say goodbye to family and friends. Despite their care, the pain was terrible.

But he carried another kind of agony as well: he had some huge regrets. The nurse told me he wasn’t at peace, that something was troubling him deeply and he wouldn’t be able to die peacefully unless it was resolved. She asked: wasn’t there someone dad trusted whom he could speak frankly with?

Twenty-four hours before he died, his priest visited. Dad was able to let go of his burden and afterwards, despite the pain, you could see he wasn’t struggling any more. For me, it meant the door opened on a reconciliation which I’d waited all my adult life for.

A cousin wanted to visit dad on this last day and I was tempted to say no, to let dad conserve his energy. But for what? This cousin said later that being able to see dad that day changed the course of his life. In his reflections on his own life, dad was able to guide him away from making some of the same grave mistakes.

Despite my initial desire to support dad in ending his life, I have come to cherish that last 48 hours as pivotal. He was able at last to die in peace, and his legacy for many who visited him was a deep wisdom which comes from knowing there is little time left to say what matters most. For me, it meant an understanding that the very last hours of someone’s life are as precious as their first.

Robyn Appleton, Reading

 

In all the debate about assisted dying I do hope the view is taken into account of Indians like myself who believe assisted dying will not terminate your life and stop the suffering.

This is because we believe we are trapped in an endless cycle of death and rebirth which we call samsara, until we reach nirvana. It is the samsara that causes our suffering, and only through being part of a sangha, or community, can we learn how to reach nirvana. The sangha could be seen as providing assisted living.

Kartar Uppal, West Bromwich

 

The sidelining of satan

It is understandable that the Church of England has stopped mentioning Satan at Christenings (“The devil is in the details”, 18 July): he has been overtaken by knighted bankers, phone-tappers, pay-day lenders and television stars of the 1980s.

Ian McKenzie, Lincoln

 

Prepare to emigrate to Scotland

Alex Salmond is said to feel (report, 17 July) that a Yes vote will protect the NHS in Scotland from the privatisation likely in England should there be a Tory majority next May. In combination with many of their other ideas for the future of this country, Cameron and Co are likely to encourage emigration, probably to Scotland.

Peter Erridge, East Grinstead

 

Something evil down under

I used to admire Australians: bravery in two world wars, Nobel Prize-winning scientists, wonderful cricketers... But now Australian big names stand for varieties of evil: the Murdoch empire, Rolf Harris, and even its Prime Minister, Tony Abbott (“Thumbs down under – Australia’s repeal of the carbon tax is a retrograde step”, 18 July). What could be more evil than a plan to wreck the planet?

Peter Brooker, West Wickham 

 

Democracy good ...democracy bad

Strange how our love of democracy fades the nearer we get to the eastern Mediterranean.

Bob Simmonds, Stickney, Lincolnshire

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