While the White House has placed humanitarian aid at the heart of its Syria policy, the government agency charged with disbursing it has frozen more than $200 million in contracts, fearing significant fraud.
The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) told the House Foreign Affairs Committee this month it has received at least 116 complaints of abuse, and 25 investigations have been opened, some two-thirds of which relate to theft and fraud.
The problems underscore a wider dilemma: how to deliver aid in a war zone where most fear to travel. The U.S. is the leading humanitarian donor in Syria, but most of the $5.5 billion in American aid has been distributed through the United Nations and a host of partner organizations.
“When USAID learned about possible fraud in humanitarian aid for Syrians, we took immediate action to halt several activities in Turkey and to suspend individuals and third-party vendors from receiving U.S. funding,” spokesman Ben Edwards said. “USAID has learned from this experience and is taking additional measures to protect our assistance, including limiting the amount of relief supplies in any one warehouse, enhancing program monitoring, and ensuring that programs are immediately suspended or terminated in the event of fraud or diversion.”
In southern Turkey, current and former employees of International Medical Corps (IMC), a Los Angeles-based charity, said that a “mafia” of suppliers had conspired to rig bids, accepting substandard goods that did not meet invoiced specifications. “It was like a cartel,” said one senior employee, who, like others, was not authorized to speak to the media or feared repercussions.
Reflecting on the corruption, a former IMC staffer said the investigation should act as a “wake-up call” for aid groups.