Sanctions on Emergency Aid

Aid organizations call for the EU to lift sanctions on Syria, because they block earthquake emergency aid. For years, sanctions have massively contributed to hunger in Syria.

DAMASCUS/BERLIN (Own report) – Aid organizations are calling for the immediate lifting of the EU’s sanctions on Syria, because they are blocking emergency aid in the wake of the devastating earthquake. The sanctions have already been “seriously affecting the population for years,” the general secretary of the Middle East Council of Churches (MECC) declared. Due to the sanctions, even the Church’s “earthquake relief aid does not reach Syria.” The Head of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC) reported that the sanctions-related fuel shortage prevents sufficient aid convoys from reaching the region of the earthquake in Syria. For years, the sanctions have been sharply criticized by aid organizations such as Caritas, because they escalate poverty and hunger in the country. According to statistics of the World Food Program (WFP), 12 million, out of the population of 22 million, suffer food insecurity due to the fact that the importation of food, as well as fertilizer and agricultural machines are under sanctions and therefore hardly accessible. Rather than lift sanctions, Germany’s Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock calls for opening northern Syrian border crossings – thereby instrumentalizing the earthquake, to push through a long-standing Western demand.

The Dispute over Border Crossings

The fierce dispute over border crossings in northern Syria has been going on already for several years. In 2014, while the war in Syria was still in full swing, four border crossings in the north of the country were designated, to allow aid to be transported to regions not under the control of the government in Damascus. However, the situation in the country has since significantly changed and the government has regained control over vast regions of the country. For years, the government has been willing, and able, to ensure the transport of aid to regions still held by insurgents, through Syrian territory rather than via foreign countries. This pertains particularly to the Idlib province, still under the control of the al Qaeda offshoot, Hayat Tahrir al Sham (HTS). Damascus insists that aid supplies for Idlib be transported over its territory. It is supported by Moscow, which in the UN Security Council approves deliveries only through the Bab al-Hawa border crossing from Turkey directly to Idlib. The West, however, which again seeks to force the reopening of the border crossings to undermine Syria’s sovereignty, is obstructing deliveries through Syrian territory.

The Consequences of Punitive Measures

This is due in part to the sanctions against Syria, which Western states still continue to maintain. They are complicating – if not preventing – aid deliveries through Syrian territory. Sanctions were imposed by the USA, the EU and other Western states. In late May of last year, the EU had extended them another year.[1] They have severe consequences for the Syrian population. It has been regularly pointed out that they have been fatally hampering the population’s supply of food and medicine. An analysis published in July 2022 by Boston’s renowned Tufts University, notes that the sanctions not only prevent the food imports by making deliveries and payments virtually impossible, through blocking the transportation and financial sectors. They harm Syria’s traditionally strong agriculture by prohibiting, for example, the import of fertilizer, pesticides and herbicides, and equipment such as irrigation pumps and bulldozers or even fuel. They have triggered a rapid devaluation of Syria’s currency and have negatively impacted the flow of remittances to Syria from relatives abroad – an important source of income.[2]

“The Bomb of Poverty”

Therefore, the sanctions have for years been sharply criticized internationally. ( reported.[3]) Among the organizations that have regularly called for an immediate end to the sanctions, because they are causing serious harm to the population, is the Catholic relief organization, Caritas. At a Caritas event around ten years after the beginning of the Syrian upheavals in March 2011, the Apostolic Nuncio in Damascus, Mario Zenari, complained that It is true that bombs and rockets have not fallen on Syria for some months now, however, “the terrible ‘bomb’ of poverty has exploded.”[4] In fact, poverty and hunger in Syria have spread on an enormous scale, due particularly to the Western-imposed sanctions. Out of a population of around 22 million, 12 million are food insecure, with 2.5 million, even severely, according to the WPF.[5] The fact that the price of the standard food basket had skyrocketed by a factor of 15 between October 2019 and October 2022, is one of the causes. In late January, the WFP announced that in Syria, 70% of the population may soon be unable to put food on the table for their families.[6]

Targeting the Population

In the wake of the catastrophic earthquake in Turkey and Syria, taking the lives of thousands in both countries and causing devastating material damage, aid organizations are now again urging the immediate lifting of sanctions. The sanctions exacerbate the “difficult humanitarian situation,” said the head of the Syrian Red Crescent, Khaled Hboubati. For example, there is “no fuel” even to send (aid and rescue) convoys to the devastated areas.[7] The European Union must immediately lift the sanctions. Yesterday, Michael Abs, General Secretary of the Middle East Council of Churches (MECC) joined this appeal. The MECC unites around 30 churches and congregations of the major confessions. “The sanctions have been having a major impact on the population, for years,” relates Abs. “Because of the sanctions, earthquake relief does not arrive in Syria, because we cannot transfer money from Lebanon to Syria.”[8] Experts point to the fact that the sanctions are not only blocking emergency aid. They are targeting the rebuilding of the war-damaged infrastructure – and will, therefore, also make reconstruction more difficult in the wake of the earthquake.[9]

The West’s Objectives

Western governmental authorities have already declared that the sanctions will not be lifted, regardless of their fatal impact on emergency aid. Such a step would be “counterproductive,” is how Ned Price, Speaker for the US State Department was quoted.[10] Also in Berlin, there is no inclination of giving in to the unanimous demands of the Middle East Christian and Muslim aid organizations. The German government instead insists, on reigniting the old conflict over the opening of the Northern Syrian border crossings for aid supplies, to instrumentalize the devastating earthquake for pushing through long-standing political objectives. Yesterday. Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said, the “key,” at the moment, is not the lifting of sanctions, but rather, “the opening of the border-crossings.” “All international actors – including Russia” – should now “use their influence on the Syrian government,” to win compliance with this long-standing Western demand.[11] What interest should Moscow have in complying with the demand of a politician, who sees herself at war with Russia, is unclear – and all the more so, given the fact that Russia, as well as the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Iran and other countries have already been delivering emergency relief to Damascus.


[1] Syrien: Sanktionen um ein weiteres Jahr verlängert. 31.05.2022.

[2] Mohammad Kanfash: Sanctions and Food Insecurity in Syria. 06.07.2022.

[3] See also The War after the War and Hoffen auf die Hungerrevolte.

[4] Stop sanctions. After 10 years of war Syria is now under the ‘bomb’ of poverty. 23.03.2021.

[5] WFP Syria Situation Report #11. November 2022.

[6] Hunger soars to 12-year high in Syria, WFP chief calls for urgent action. 27.01.2023.

[7] Abby Sewell, Kareem Chehayeb: Aid to quake-hit Syria slowed by sanctions, war’s divisions. 07.02.2023.

[8] Michael Maier: Christliche Kirchen fordern Ende der EU-Sanktionen gegen Syrien. 07.02.2023.

[9], [10] Abby Sewell, Kareem Chehayeb: Aid to quake-hit Syria slowed by sanctions, war’s divisions. 07.02.2023.

[11] Baerbock verlangt Öffnung der Grenze zwischen Türkei und Syrien. 07.02.2023.