On 10th anniversary of Syria’s war, Catholic charity urges US and EU to help aid reach poor

Syria ismaelmartinezsanchez/ACN

On the 10th anniversary of Syria’s war, a Catholic charity urged the United States and the European Union to remove obstacles to aid reaching the country’s neediest people.

Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) said that it was unable to make money transfers to the local Church despite humanitarian exemptions to sanctions against Syria.

The pontifical foundations added that charities face “insurmountable” difficulties in sending humanitarian goods to the country that has suffered conflict since March 15, 2011.

 / ismaelmartinezsanchez/ACN

/ ismaelmartinezsanchez/ACN

Thomas Heine-Geldern, ACN’s international executive president, appealed to the U.S. and E.U. to take urgent action in a March 10statement.

“It is our duty to provide help to the suffering civil population of Syria -- and especially to the rapidly dwindling Christian minority. In their name I beg you to implement the existing international legal framework, which allows humanitarian exceptions to the embargo,” he said.

Heine-Geldern explained that although Western sanctions against Syria contain humanitarian exemptions, aid agencies are unable to take advantage of them.

“Although the sanctions foresee exceptions for money transfers related to humanitarian help, it does not work,” he said.

European IBAN and American SWIFT banking codes, which enable money to be sent to overseas banks, block transfers to Syria.

“Consequently,” he said, “it becomes almost impossible for charitable organizations to transfer funds for humanitarian purposes to meet the needs of the suffering population.”

 / ismaelmartinezsanchez/ACN

/ ismaelmartinezsanchez/ACN

Heine-Geldern said that the transfers were critical as the local Church and charities in Syria were unable to arrange the shipment of humanitarian goods to the estimated 14 million Syrians requiring assistance.

“So we normally send money for our counterparts to buy the food, medical help, and clothing locally,” he said.

He said that sanctions also placed unreasonable demands on those seeking to deliver humanitarian goods to Syria.

“To apply for permits, our partners often have to overcome insurmountable multilingual procedures put in place by the sanction authorities,” he said, noting that even small quantities of goods are hit with high importation fees.

It is especially hard to import “dual-use goods,” which can be used for humanitarian purposes but also have other uses.

He gave the example of powdered milk, which is classified as a dual-use good even though undernourished babies and children in Syria urgently need it.

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He appealed to governments to give clearer definitions of permitted and prohibited goods, and remove bureaucratic hurdles to delivering aid.

He proposed “a general license for designated NGOs” as a possible interim solution.

ACN, founded in 1947, has donated almost $50 million to 900 humanitarian and pastoral projects in Syria since war broke out.

Meanwhile, the Catholic charity Caritas haslauncheda campaign to help children in Syria with much-needed medical, humanitarian, and educational resources.

The charity’s“Tomorrow is in our hands”campaign seeks to bolster educational opportunities for Syrian children after the COVID-19 pandemic pushed 50% out of the education system.

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