On 1 June, Europe must vote on renewing its sanctions against Syria, which it imposed in 2011. The US has tried to use an economic weapon to achieve regime change. Nun talks about the tragedy and the desperation of a people faced with an " untenable” situation.
Damascus (AsiaNews) – In addition to war, jihadist violence and devastation, the Syrian people must also face EU and US sanctions, which are affecting an economy already on its knees, said Sister Marta, a Trappist nun in Azeir, Syria, speaking to AsiaNews.
"For the first time in all these years" of conflict, "we see people really discouraged" because the embargo and the restrictions "weigh heavily. There is no petrol, no gas, no diesel and in our region, which is above all agricultural, people who farm can’t bring their fruit and vegetables to Damascus or to markets, so everything is still.”
On 1st June, the European Union will vote on renewing its sanctions against Syria. These include an oil embargo, restrictions on some investments, the freezing of assets of the Syrian central bank held in the EU and restrictions on the export of equipment and technology.
Imposed in 2011 following the start of the war, they also include a travel ban on 270 individuals and an asset freeze against 72 entities, and must be reviewed on an annual basis.
The EU embargo runs parallel to US policy, which is geared towards removing the Assad family from power and achieving regime change.
As a result of sanctions, fuel cannot be imported. Transportation has become paralysed, including buses, taxis, and private cars. Students can no longer attend school and university, and patients cannot go to doctor appointments.
Although medical drugs and hospitals are not included in the embargo, hospitals cannot function properly for lack of equipment and spare parts. Foreign banks are effectively prevented from dealing with their Syrian counterparts.
This, combined with the war itself, has had devastating consequences. Almost half a million people have died, more than three million have been disabled, and about 11 million - almost half of the population – have been forced to abandon their homes.
About 6 million live in neighbouring countries (3.6 in Turkey alone), whilst another 6.2 million are internally displaced in what is the worst humanitarian crisis since the Second World War.
Over 80 per cent of the population lives in extreme poverty, with less than two dollars a day. After 2009, just under 60 per cent of businesses have moved abroad and unemployment went from 10 per cent in 2010 to over 50 per cent in 2015.
Losses in terms of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) between 2011 and 2016 has reached US$ 226 billion, about four times the GDP of 2010.
Analysts and experts have noted several times that US and EU "smart sanctions" are not very intelligent, and affect mostly the humanitarian aid sector, which is struggling more and more to operate in the country. As the Maronite archbishop of Damascus recently pointed out to AsiaNews, the situation is increasingly difficult.
The European Union “is going to vote again in June,” Sister Marta said. Meanwhile, many small businesses in Syria are unable to operate. "We still use ice to preserve stuff, but icemakers cannot produce any ice. There is no electricity for refrigerators nor any petrol to deliver ice blocks,” she explained.
The same goes for bread, which is "rationed because ovens work with diesel fuel . . . In short, this is really weighing heavily on people, who are really discouraged". More and more people regret not having left.
"How can anyone imagine that the country can start again" if it is burdened by "such a heavy burden (the sanctions)?" Prices “have tripled,” the nun noted. “The situation is truly untenable.”