Priest in Damascus: sanctions undermine trust and hope in the future

The new punitive measures by the US administration will affect Syria’s civilians, not their leaders. For the Syrian government, they open the door to terrorism. For Fr Amer, the problem "is not only material;” meanwhile, “an entire generation of young professionals” is leaving. Donors and business people “are afraid to send money and resources”.

Damascus (AsiaNews) – The situation in Syria "is complicated at all levels" by ongoing conflicts in some regions and sanctions, which are "impoverishing" the country and forcing "an entire generation of young professionals” to flee, this according to Fr Amer Kassar, pastor of Our Lady of Fatima Church in Damascus.

For the clergyman, “There is not only a material problem, like money and resources, but also one of trust and hope in the future". This is compounded by the fact that the initiatives promoted by the Church also suffer from “the punitive measures "and so she cannot guarantee hoped for help.”

Speaking about the situation in Syria, Fr Amer points out that fighting is still going on "in the north-west, in the Idlib area, where various terrorist groups are clashing and civilians are caught up in the violence.”

In the north-east "the problem is with the Kurds, who have prevented students from taking exams in recent days". The Kurds “want to change the curriculum to make it Kurdish-Arab, separate from the Syrian one.”

Conversely, "For those of us who live under government rule, the biggest problem is the economic situation,” noted the 42-year-old Syro-Catholic priest.

“Life has become very expensive; prices have increased whilst wages have remained the same, about 25-30 US dollars a month. Products, like food and basic necessities, are available but people cannot afford the 'luxury' of buying them.”

Sanctions have interrupted "the purchase of goods from abroad, including medicines," putting the health system in crisis at a moment of "severe stress" due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Last week, the Trump administration said that it would put more "political and economic" pressure on the Syrian government, with new sanctions, aimed also at President Assad's wife.

Washington's goal with the Caesar Act is to isolate Syria’s leaders and force them to sit at UN-brokered peace talks from a position of weakness and inferiority.

However, despite the rhetoric and propaganda, the only effect of the new punitive measures, which come on top of those already imposed by the United States and the European Union, would affect the Syrian population, as some Christian leaders pointed out recently.

Ordinary Syrians rather than Syria’s rulers will pay the heavy price for this, as prices rise, the national currency tanks, and shortages appear in stores.

Reacting to US policy, Syrian leaders have accused Washington of “seeking to starve the [Syrian] people,” opening the door for "terrorism" to the return to the war-torn country.

Syria’s Foreign Minister, Walid al-Moallem, also believes that an attempt is underway to sway Syria’s presidential election next year. As far as he is concerned, Assad will remain in power as long as the Syrian people want him to stay. 

Meanwhile, donors, businesses and ordinary people “are afraid of sending money or goods to Syria for fear of running up against sanctions" by the United States and Europe, Fr Amer explained.

“Restrictions affect the people, not the government or the president” he added. “We are the ones who suffer; we are the ones without money to buy food to eat. These measures end up starving ordinary people.”

In addition, the escalating crisis "is forcing more and more young doctors, engineers, graduates to flee,” leaving the country "without an entire generation that should be the engine of its growth. They leave for lack of trust and hope in the future.”

The clergyman adds that "Syria was rich; we had tourism, industries. Now there is nothing left and it is worse than during the darkest moments of the war. The only hope today is to have a small flat and some food on the table.”

The Church is trying "to provide some support to the poorest families, but even we cannot do a lot since we have fewer funds and resources. Projects and initiatives have stopped because aid from abroad is blocked.”