On 10th Anniversary of Syria’s War, Catholic Charity Urges US and EU to Help Aid Reach Poor

Aid to the Church in Need, founded in 1947, has donated almost $50 million to 900 humanitarian and pastoral projects in Syria since war broke out.

A Syrian woman sits inside a Catholic church.
A Syrian woman sits inside a Catholic church. (photo: ismaelmartinezsanchez / ACN)

LONDON On the 10th anniversary of Syria’s war, a Catholic charity urged the United States and the European Union to remove obstacles to aid reaching the country’s neediest people.

Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) said it was unable to make money transfers to the local Church despite humanitarian exemptions to sanctions against Syria.

 / ismaelmartinezsanchez/ACN

/ ismaelmartinezsanchez/ACN

The pontifical foundation added that charities faced “insurmountable” difficulties in sending humanitarian goods to the Middle Eastern country where war has raged since March 15, 2011.

Thomas Heine-Geldern, ACN’s international executive president, appealed to the U.S. and E.U. to take urgent action in a March 10 statement.

“It is our duty to provide help to the suffering civil population of Syria — and especially to the rapidly dwindling Christian minority. In their name, I beg you to implement the existing international legal framework, which allows humanitarian exceptions to the embargo,” he said.

Heine-Geldern explained that although Western sanctions against Syria contained humanitarian exemptions, aid agencies were unable to take advantage of them.

“Although the sanctions foresee exceptions for money transfers related to humanitarian help, it does not work,” he said.

European IBAN and American SWIFT banking codes — which enable money to be sent to overseas banks — block transfers to Syria.

“Consequently,” he said, “it becomes almost impossible for charitable organizations to transfer funds for humanitarian purposes to meet the needs of the suffering population.”

Heine-Geldern said that the transfers were critical as the local Church and charities in Syria lacked the capacity to arrange shipments of humanitarian goods to the estimated 14 million Syrians requiring assistance.

“So we normally send money for our counterparts to buy the food, medical help, and clothing locally,” he said.

He added that sanctions also placed unreasonable demands on those seeking to deliver humanitarian goods to Syria.

“To apply for permits, our partners often have to overcome insurmountable multilingual procedures put in place by the sanction authorities,” he said, noting that even small quantities of goods were hit with high importation fees.

It is especially hard to import “dual-use goods,” which can be used for humanitarian purposes but also have other uses.

He gave the example of powdered milk, which is classified as dual-use even though undernourished babies and children in Syria urgently need it.

He appealed to Western governments to give clearer definitions of permitted and prohibited goods, and remove bureaucratic hurdles to delivering aid.

He proposed “a general license for designated NGOs” as a possible interim solution.

ACN, founded in 1947, has donated almost $50 million to 900 humanitarian and pastoral projects in Syria since war broke out.

Meanwhile, the Catholic charity Caritas has launched a campaign to help children in Syria with much-needed medical, humanitarian, and educational resources.

The charity’s “Tomorrow is in our hands” campaign seeks to bolster educational opportunities for Syrian children after the COVID-19 pandemic pushed 50% out of the education system.

 At the Angelus on March 14, Pope Francis urged the world not to forget the ongoing suffering of the “martyred” people of Syria on the eve of the 10th anniversary of the start of the Syrian war.

“Ten years ago, the bloody conflict in Syria began, which has caused one of the most serious humanitarian catastrophes of our time,” he said.

The pope noted that the decade-long war in Syria had left “an unknown number of dead and wounded, millions of refugees, thousands disappeared, destruction, violence of all kinds, and immense suffering for the entire population, especially for the most vulnerable, such as children, women, and the elderly.”

In Advent, we await the coming of Jesus at Christmastime.

What Is Advent Anyway?

EXPLAINER: Advent is a season in the Church’s life intended to renew the experience of waiting and longing for the Messiah.