Russian aid workers in the Syrian governorate of Latakia. 9 February, 2023. (Photo credit: Instagram/MySyria)
The US Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) on 10 February issued a temporary waiver for Caesar Act sanctions imposed on Syria to allow earthquake relief funds to reach the country, following days of hindered humanitarian efforts.
The Syria General License (GL) 23, issued by OFAC, authorizes earthquake relief transactions – which would typically be restricted under the Syrian Sanctions Regulations (SySR) – for a period of 180 days.
“Our deepest condolences go out to the people of Türkiye and Syria for the tragic loss of life and destruction in the wake of devastating earthquakes,” Deputy Secretary of the US Treasury Department, Wally Adeyemo, said.
“As international allies and humanitarian partners mobilize to help those affected, I want to make very clear that U.S. sanctions in Syria will not stand in the way of life-saving efforts for the Syrian people. While U.S. sanctions programs already contain robust exemptions for humanitarian efforts, today Treasury is issuing a blanket General License to authorize earthquake relief efforts so that those providing assistance can focus on what’s needed most: saving lives and rebuilding,” he added.
The decision followed a storm of criticism, as many have called out the impact of US sanctions on the humanitarian situation in the country, particularly on relief efforts following the devastating earthquake. Bassam Sabbagh, Syria’s permanent UN envoy, said on 8 February that international cargo planes have been ‘refusing’ to land in Syrian airports due to the threat of sanctions.
However, others have justified US sanctions and claimed that they do not restrict humanitarian efforts or aid provision in any way, despite repeated UN warnings over the years and in the last few days following the disaster.
However, many have pointed out that the sanctions are designed in a way that intimidates countries against dealing with the Syrian government, making it so that even when aid is involved, those who want to assist usually refrain from doing so due to the high risk of US consequences.
Senior US officials have said in the last two days that they will continue to refuse coordination with Damascus in any way, even going as far as calling it “counterproductive.”
Washington claims to be working ‘on the ground’ to provide aid through its NGO ‘partners,’ however, even US-based crowdfunding platform GoFundMe has canceled fundraising campaigns of local Syrians affected by the quake who are attempting to raise money for relief.
The fact that the US Treasury Department decided to officially issue a temporary waiver for the Caesar Act serves as proof that Washington’s sanctions indeed do pose a threat to humanitarian efforts.