'We need to know who is going to spend the money'
‘Every day is different. One day I’m in jeans and sneakers, walking through a refugee camp in Iraq. And 24 hours later I’m dressed up in a suit, meeting with a UN official and reviewing plans for next year. My everyday practical experience augments the information I get from my colleagues in The Hague, Geneva and New York.’
Sophie Volmer (33) works as a Humanitarian Aid Coordinator in the region that covers Syria, Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq.
Together we can do more
‘For a major donor like the Netherlands, just donating money isn’t enough. We need to know who is going to spend the money. Are the right choices being made and the right projects supported? My job is to find out how the system works here in the region and keep tabs on what the Netherlands is spending money on. I also work with Dutch embassies in the region to link up our efforts with those of other parties.
‘One of the ways that the Netherlands distributes aid is through UN humanitarian organisations. We support OCHA, the UN agency that coordinates humanitarian aid. This means that instead of different countries making small contributions for water, healthcare or education, we can all work in concert. This way we can respond more effectively to the current crisis and see what’s needed at a specific time. Together we can do more.’
‘It’s too easy to pass judgment from the safety of our peaceful country. If someone decides to travel to Syria from another country to join ISIS, that’s their own choice. But many people who live in the Middle East had no choice. They were living in areas taken over by ISIS, and forced to surrender or even fight for ISIS. And now, in areas where ISIS has been driven out, these people are viewed with hostility; combatants’ wives and children in displaced persons camps have it especially hard.
From a humanitarian point of view, these are the people we particularly need to help. As long as they’re not combatants, that is. Humanitarian aid is meant for civilians who are not actively taking part in conflict. In the meantime we’re looking for long-term solutions that can bring lasting peace. We need solutions that prevent particular groups from being systematically excluded from society, to avoid creating breeding grounds for new terrorist groups.’
‘The idea behind #NotATarget is that humanitarian workers and civilians should never be targets of wartime violence. Unfortunately, they are being targeted now. There are areas that international humanitarian workers can’t even enter. That’s terrible, because humanitarian workers have to do their work in conflict zones and must be able to do it safely. And now the Syrians and Iraqis are shouldering all the risk on their own. We are seeing a change in the way war is conducted. Areas where there are armed groups are being surrounded and starved to force them to surrender. But no one is taken any account of the consequences for the civilians in those areas.
‘Organisations like the Red Cross, Doctors without Borders and the Dutch Relief Alliance, a partnership of 16 Dutch aid organisations, are on the front lines with their local partners where they are in grave danger. I think that’s terrible, and so do most people in the world. The #NotATarget selfie campaign is doing a great job of showing that most people have empathy and want to lend a helping hand. Our embassy is joining in the campaign too to help drive home this message. You can be cynical and say, “When it’s been a problem for this long, a campaign won’t help.” That’s not how I see it. This is a way to unite against those who are attacking humanitarian workers and civilians.
‘As a Dutch diplomat, I can’t go to Syria because the Netherlands doesn’t currently have an embassy there. But we are funding organisations that are providing humanitarian aid in Syria. I went there once, when I was still a student, in 2004. It’s a wonderful country. It’s devastating to see how it’s been destroyed.’
Extraordinary places around the world
‘In the ten years I’ve worked for the foreign ministry, I’ve been to many extraordinary places around the world and had so many great experiences. I started out in the Humanitarian Aid Division in The Hague. Then I had several amazing postings working on human rights, conflict management and humanitarian aid. I worked for the UN in Bukavu in the DRC, at our Permanent Mission in Geneva, and briefly helped out in New York. I’ve been living in Jordan for three years now. I travel a lot from here, for example to Turkey, Iraq and Lebanon.’
‘When I was studying international law, I already knew I didn’t want a traditional job as a lawyer. I like to be where the action is. This posting is the ideal combination. I could never have dreamt it up myself, but it’s my dream job.’