The conflict that has been raging in Syria for nine years has caused an unbearable level of suffering for all the people in the country. We are pleased to partner with EPDC, (St. Ephrem Patriarchal Development Committee), the Syrian Orthodox Church’s Development work in the country, and specifically with one of their projects in Maaloula, as well as providing general relief in the harsh winters. In our posts this month, we hope to enable some of the voices of Syrians to be heard and to offer an insight into the context on the ground about which most media is silent. We shall consider the impact of sanctions on civilians, the work of EPDC, their project in Maaloula and the impact of the war on all Syrians.
The sanctions that have been placed on Syria by the EU (including the UK) and 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 politically motivated goal of causing the downfall of the Syrian Government by prohibiting any foreign political engagement or investment in these areas has failed. Like many we ask whether the goal has anything to do with human rights, or more to do with the furthering of economic and political interests of ‘western’ powers and their aggressive allies in the region such as Turkey and Saudi Arabia? Ultimately, it is now the citizens who suffer from the resulting lack of investment in basic services and infrastructure.
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; indeed, even their own efforts to help themselves and re-build their lives are hampered by sanctions.
HART’s Syrian partner organisation in Maaloula has experienced this hardship first-hand. Since the establishment of our partnership with EPDC in 2018, we have struggled to send funds to our partner community either at all or at the appropriate time. Given the legacy of the conflict that has ripped apart a country and its people for more than 9 years, leaving 6.2 million people internally displaced and over 13 million people in need of humanitarian assistance, it is appalling that the people of Syria must face further suffering, inflicted and compounded by economic sanctions.
Furthermore, sanctions are disproportionately affecting Syria’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the Syrian healthcare system. Medical journal, *The Lancet *(2 July 2020), recently acknowledged this, saying these, “blunt bilateral instruments, which have not been approved by the UN Security Council and have been opposed by the UN Commission on Human Rights, imposed on Syria in the unsupported belief that they will hasten regime change, have seriously impeded the country’s ability to cope with the pandemic… The Syrian health system, already fractured by years of conflict, is being further destroyed by sanctions.”
While members of HART were in Western Aleppo in 2016 and Eastern Aleppo in the hands of the Jihadists, we witnessed constant bombardment of Western Aleppo and associated suffering. During this trip, a Catholic priest said to us, “thank you for coming to put your hands into the wounds of our suffering. Now you believe, go and tell.”
This is HART’s mandate: we cannot experience the suffering of our partners, but we can visit, witness, “put our hands into the wounds of their suffering” – and believe, go and tell.
It is this ethos which has provoked us to share the testimony of a 16-year-old Syrian girl, who we have verified but for safety reasons will remain anonymous. She wrote last month:
“We are now facing economic problems because of the United States because America has steadily applied economic and financial pressure against us in Syria and the European Community has renewed economic sanctions against us.
Most countries have stopped giving us food and medicine.
Our oil is stolen under our noses and we cannot say anything about it.
Our fields are burned by drones that destroy what our daily bread should be.
The Syrian people are suffering from hunger.
Now our food prices have gone up 5 or 7 times.
People are selling their kidneys to get money. There are many cases of suicide.
There is a distorted view of our country through the lies of the media because they do not want the people from around the world to know the truth.
Syrian lives matter too.
Stop the sanctions on Syria.
Syria needs your help and Syria needs your voice.
Pray for Syria and let our voices be heard.”
At HART we are committed, above all else, to supporting people suffering from conflict and persecution in places with no international attention and outside help. We work where many others don’t – speaking truth to power, facilitating humanitarian relief and fostering sustainable development. We do not choose sides, political or otherwise, our motivation remains only to ease the hardship of those most in need. In recent years, the media spotlight has shifted away from Syria and its people, but the suffering has not relented. The international sanctions which continue to be imposed on Syria and most importantly, the citizens caught in the crossfire of a war they did not ask for and a political situation they cannot control, has left the Syrian people afraid and without hope.
We therefore urge a reconsideration of UK priorities so that foreign policy initiatives do not prolong the suffering of the Syrian people. It is the poor who bear the brunt of these actions. They must no longer be used as means of political pressure on the Syrian Government.
Economic sanctions must be stopped.