Syrian-Canadian aid group 'regrets' cancelled funding
Canadian Relief for Syria 'still waiting' for government's explanation of reversal
The Canadian-based group that was supposed to get $2 million to help deliver medical aid in Syria says it "regrets" the federal government's abrupt decision to pull the funding.
Board members said Friday they still don't understand what happened.
"Canadian Relief For Syria regrets the Canadian government's reversed decision to send medical aid to Syria via CRS," Aman Sharma, a board member told a press conference. He said his group is thankful, however, that the commitment was made in the first place.
"CRS expresses its hope that the Canadian government will deliver on its promise and commitment and commit funds to help sitting field hospitals and provide medical supplies to an increasing civilian population in need and under distress," he said.
Another board member, Dr. Anas al Kassem, said his group has been in touch with officials from the department of Foreign Affairs but that they haven't been given "clear clarification" of why their funding was pulled.
"We're still waiting," he said.
Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird announced the funding for the group on the weekend. But following questions this week about the organization's charitable status and its links to another charity, Human Concern International, the government announced it had decided against proceeding with the funding arrangement.
Baird told reporters on Wednesday he had concerns about the funding after meetings with the group and that he had instructed his officials to find another way to get medical aid to Syria.
"The purpose of this funding was to help the people of Syria who've been targeted by the Assad regime and not to support such things as warehouses and infrastructure and we'll be working to ensure that aid gets to those people who need it as quickly as possible," Baird said.
Kassem said his group's proposal listed item-by-item how the $2 million would be spent and that none of the money was to be spent building or buying warehouses.
"All of it is medical supplies and equipment," he said. Kassem said his group wanted to use warehouses to store equipment and that maybe his group's intentions were misinterpreted.
Members of the group said whether it's them or another group, they just want medical assistance to get to injured civilians in Syria. Kassem said any supplies that do make their way to medical workers on the ground are quickly used up and that some operations are being performed with barely any medications.
"The situation is horrible and we need more medical supplies," he said. The $2 million donation from the federal government would have helped a lot of people, he said.
The organization, which is awaiting approval of its application for charitable status with the Canada Revenue Agency, said it has a network of medical workers on the ground and works closely with other members of a Paris-based union of medical relief groups.
CRS said it has helped set up about 50 field hospitals over the last year and has helped raise about $2 million for medical aid through other charities.
A spokesman for Baird said Friday that "a contribution agreement could not be reached with this organization."
"Our primary focus will continue to be working to provide much needed aid to the Syrian people, who on a daily basis face a brutal, repressive and murderous regime," Rick Roth said in an email.
with files from The Canadian Press