US waiver temporarily allows for funds to bypass sanctions against the Assad government. Christian charities experience mixed results.
Syria has been suffering for 12 years, plagued by civil war, jihadist violence, foreign occupation, and autocratic governance. Yet widening US economic sanctions have made it increasingly harder to help—until now.
A February waiver offers a 180-day window for earthquake relief.
“If God has put it on your heart to give to Syria, be generous,” said Nabil Costa, executive director of the Lebanese Society for Educational and Social Development (LSESD), also known as the Baptist Society. “Find trusted organizations, because it is not easy to get it to the right place.”
On March 10, the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA) joined the World Council of Churches (WCC) and Catholic charity Caritas to detail the “chilling effect” sanctions have on the ability of faith-based and other NGOs to transfer money and goods to struggling Syrians. Most banks have deemed such transactions too risky to facilitate.
Therefore, unlike in neighboring Turkey, the February 6 earthquake was not followed by an immediate outpouring of international aid. Despite a death toll of 6,000 and an estimated 500,000 more displaced amid the rubble, United States and European Union policy—and distrust of the Bashar al-Assad government—prevented most nations and international humanitarian organizations from rushing to the scene.
A false step could result in a $1 million fine and 20 years in prison.
US sanctions against Syria began in 1979 with a declaration that it was a state sponsor of terrorism, and tightened in 2004 for its undermining of the war in Iraq. In 2011, Syria’s repression of civil protest resulted in additional sanctions, subsequently strengthened throughout its civil war—especially after the …