Syria NGOs say bank anti-terror rules hindering aid

Syria NGOs say bank anti-terror rules hindering aid
A coalition of Franco-Syrian NGOs warned that their aid operations for the war-scarred country were being stymied by by governments and banks to curb the financing of terror groups.

3 min read
03 May, 2018
Aid destined to help Syrians in the war-torn country is being hindered [Getty]

Aid operations in Syria are being hindered by governments and banks attempting to curb the financing of terror groups, a coalition of Franco-Syrian NGOs warned on Thursday.

The Syrian Development and Relief Collective, known by its French abbreviation CODSSY, said in an open letter that its ability to provide humanitarian aid was being put at risk.

Many western banks have become reluctant to work with any of the numerous groups offering aid to the country, wary of running afoul of strict rules aimed at choking off funds to jihadist fighters.

"Refusals to open bank accounts, the unexplained closing of accounts, closings of online donation sites, long delays or cancellations of money transfers: The obstacles are numerous," the group said.

"We're asking that controls be tightened, because it protects the banks as well as us," said Ammar Chaker of the Union of Medical Aid and Treatment Organisations, a CODSSY member.

"But we need clear procedures and responses to our questions. When a transfer is blocked or refused, we need to understand why so we can provide the necessary information for it," he said.

The letter's signatories noted a pledge in March by French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian to triple France's budget for humanitarian aid, so that it could be "one of the pillars of our foreign policy".

"But for this policy to be effective, it's essential that security imperatives do not render all humanitarian actions impossible," they said, urging talks by authorities and banking officials aimed at finding a solution.

Last month, French President Emmanuel Macron warned that militants "use all contemporary forms of financing" in an address at the closing of a two-day conference on combating the funding of terror groups at the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), which brought together around 80 ministers and 500 experts.

"We have to cut off terrorism at its roots: it feeds on human trafficking, drugs and weapons. There's always an underlying economy," said Macron, urging global "transparency and mobilisation."

"We have to cross to a new stage in the fight against Daesh and al-Qaeda,” he said, using the Arabic acronym for the Islamic State militant group.

A French presidential official briefing journalists ahead of the terror funding conference this week said that IS income was estimated at about one billion dollars (820 million euros) a year between 2014-2016.

Most of this was from local taxation, oil revenues and looting, with far smaller amounts flowing in from overseas donors. 

IS swept across large parts of Syria and neighbouring Iraq in 2014, declaring a cross-border "caliphate" in areas they controlled.

Syrian and Iraqi forces have since driven IS from nearly all the territory it once held, except for a small presence in the remote desert areas along the border.

But French officials are concerned that the money has been transferred out of Syria and Iraq and could be used to rebuild the organisation. 

"It has been moved since, at least in part. It's probably somewhere," the official said on condition of anonymity. "These groups are very skilful in using sophisticated techniques to move financial resources around."

The seven-year civil war in Syria has taken a heavy toll on civilians, killed or driven from their homes during the conflict between the regime of President Bashar Al-Assad and opposition rebel groups as well as Islamic State fighters.

An estimated 6.1 million people are now internally displaced in Syria, more than five million have fled the country and 13 million including six million children are in need of aid, according to the UN. 

More than 700,000 people have been displaced since the start of this year alone as Assad has stepped up his offensive against rebel forces, intensifying the humanitarian crisis.