Written by Bushra Bani-Salman
February 11, 2023
On February 6, Turkey experienced the most devastating earthquakes since 1939. Two earthquakes struck southern parts of Turkey, including its Kurdish provinces, and parts of northwestern Syria, mainly controlled by Kurds. Countries from around the world have sent emergency assistance, whether it be monetary funds, search and rescue teams, equipment, medical supplies, make-shift homes, and other necessities. However, complications arise from the Assad regime and their blockade that is keeping urgent aid from getting through to northwestern Syria.
Syria has been in a civil war for more than a decade, with the Syrian government – led by authoritarian leader Bashar Al-Assad heavily suppressing pro-democracy opposition through brute violence, including the use of chemical weapons. The Syrian government has shown no concern for its civilians, as they have purposefully destroyed hospitals, schools, markets, and mosques. The civil war has resulted in over 580,000 Syrian deaths, 13 million displaced Syrians, and over six million refugees. With the most recent devastation in northwestern Syria and southern Turkey, UNHCR predicts that over five million Syrians will need shelter assistance.
The Assad regime insists on handling all aid shipments to Syria. Critics have been adamant on the US and Western sanctions on Syria, claiming that these sanctions are slowing down the process for aid to reach Syrians. However, many experts are not convinced that Assad will do what is best for Syrians, as humanitarian aid has long been used as a weapon of war for the regime. Foreign policy experts believe that removing sanctions will just funnel more money to Assad’s government. Technically speaking, sanctions have little impact on humanitarian aid, but a direct impact on financial institutions in Syria. Instead, the international community should place pressure on the Assad regime and its allies to lift the siege and allow cross-border aid to come through.
On February 10th, the US officially lifted its sanctions on Syria in hopes to speed up the process of aid deliveries. The exemption will be for six months and on all transactions relating to providing disaster relief aid. The next days ahead will show whether lifting the sanctions will be a success or a failure for the Syrian people.
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