(Photo credit: Louai Beshara/AFP)
In the aftermath of the devastating earthquake that struck Syria and Turkiye on 6 February, many have expressed concern that armed groups in the country’s north – as well as aid groups and rescue teams affiliated with them – may attempt to divert humanitarian aid to opposition-held areas, with the intention of hoarding it and preventing its delivery to areas under the control of Damascus.
Please be careful who you donate to in Syria. Money cannot reach Syrians because of the sanctions and many “local” NGOs and charities are either linked to scam or terrorism, including “Molham Team” and “The White Helmets”. Donate responsibly.pic.twitter.com/GZgiv3IosT
— Hadi Nasrallah (@HadiNasrallah) February 6, 2023
This is in light of the fact that US-imposed, Caesar Act sanctions against Syria have prevented aid from reaching government-held territory in the past.
Since the earthquake, Syrian ‘aid group,’ the Molham Volunteering Team, has been raising funds to help victims of the earthquake. According to their Instagram fundraising page, the group has raised $1,851,588 out of an intended $2,135,603.
The Molham Volunteering Team was founded in 2012 by a Syrian named Atef Nanoua. According to Syrian media network QSJ, it was registered in Jordan as a regular company, but listed itself in Turkiye, France, and Germany as a ‘volunteer’ NGO. Soon afterward, it began launching online fundraising campaigns.
Nanoua, who, according to QSJ, comes from a poverty-stricken family, arrived penniless in Saudi Arabia in 2014, and soon after started appearing on social media wearing tuxedoes, riding in luxury cars, and attending extravagant weddings in Turkiye. This prompted accusations that the donations were being misappropriated.
The media network also claimed that the funds for a 2020 housing project in the northern town of Azaz, aimed at securing homes for internally displaced people in Syria, were pocketed by the Molham Volunteering Team, who had announced a fundraising goal of $250,000 and reportedly received over $3,000,000, according to the group’s website.
Whether or not it can be confirmed that the Molham Volunteering Team has pocketed all these funds over the years, one thing can be certain – it only “operates in the liberated north,” in the group’s own words. The “liberated north” refers to the northern Idlib governorate and surrounding areas of Turkish influence in northern Syria.
The group itself admitted following the earthquake that it does not send aid to the remaining territories in Syria, which include Aleppo, Latakia, and Hama, “because it is risky to cover regime-held areas.” The organization has also been receiving funds from occupied Palestine through Israeli banks.
In response to these claims about where the group operates and where the aid goes, Nanoua published a video on Molham Team’s Twitter account on 7 February, alleging that they are prohibited by the government from providing aid to areas controlled by Damascus.
توضيح || To Clarify
بعض من التعليقات اللي وصلتنا عن الوضع الراهن في سوريا، بسبب عدم عملنا في مناطق سيطرة النظام..
والحقيقة أننا لا نستطيع العمل في هذه المناطق رغم أننا نتمنى حصول ذلك منذ سنوات، والسبب الأساسي في عدم عملنا، هو السبب ذاته في تهجير الملايين!#زلزال_سوريا_تركيا pic.twitter.com/uMrsdkXgSE
— Molham Team | فريق ملهم التطوعي (@molhamteam) February 7, 2023
Molham Volunteering Group’s social media page is riddled with photos and videos of Abdul Baset al-Sarout, a Syrian opposition icon who remains glorified to this day, despite his involvement with ISIS, his calls for genocide against minorities, and his songs of praise for Osama bin Laden.
ثلاث سنوات، والجرحُ نديّ كأنه اليوم..
يكتب الآلاف عن #الساروت، ويتذكرون -بفقده- رعشة المظاهرات الأولى وبهاء الوقوف في وجه الظلم. ويتذكرون -بفقده أيضًا- لوعة التهجير والموت والقهر. وما بين ذكرى وذكرى؛ هناك حبل من الوفاء للثورة، كلما تراخى..اشتد بالتفاف السوريين حول أيقونة تشبههم. pic.twitter.com/0i5wdr4tGx
— Molham Team | فريق ملهم التطوعي (@molhamteam) June 8, 2022
#Syria/n jihadists & MSM journalists are mourning the death of Abdel Baset Sarout, a terrorist who at one point pledged allegiance to ISIS & was a commander of Jaish Al-Ezza, which is allied with Al-Qaeda. This video shows what kind of man he really was.pic.twitter.com/5X6zPokweF
— Ibn Walid (@walid970721) June 8, 2019
Among others claiming to raise money for Syria are the western-backed White Helmets, an Al-Qaeda-linked rescue team that operates in northern Syria and is known to be a heavily politicized organization.
Militant groups in northern Syria, primarily Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), have been known to hoard international humanitarian aid for themselves, usually to sell at higher prices or profit from in some way. As a result, Moscow has called for an end to the UN-sponsored cross-border aid program, which it says is used by the west to block aid from reaching and being dispersed through Damascus.
US sanctions against Syria also directly prevent government-held territory from receiving aid.
A report released in 2020 by humanitarian information portal Relief Web, affiliated with the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), reads: “The sanctions that have been placed on Syria by the EU (including the UK) and the USA have caused dire humanitarian consequences for Syrian citizens in government-controlled areas (which is 70% of the country) who are seeking to rebuild their lives.”
The report, which cites a “politically motivated goal of causing the downfall of the Syrian government,” adds: “Of the huge amounts of humanitarian aid that western governments are sending ‘to Syria,’ the vast majority reaches either refugees who have fled the country, or only those areas of Syria occupied by militant groups opposed to the Syrian government. Most Syrian people are therefore deliberately left unsupported.”