Syrian prelate blasts sanctions for crippling his country

A LEADING ARCHBISHOP HAS LASHED OUT AT INTERNATIONAL SANCTIONS ON SYRIA, which, he said, are crippling the country and plunging those who survived the civil war into dire poverty.

In a message obtained by Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), Maronite Archbishop Samir Nassar of Damascus said that the economic crisis in Syria had led to total chaos. He said: “Day and night, families have to stand in line in a number of interminable queues [to get food]. This chaotic scene has become the norm. This is the place where they learn patience, meet their new neighbors, control their anger, and pray their rosary in silence. But mainly it is a place to live out this calvary without complaining too much.”

According to Archbishop Nassar, international sanctions are one of the main factors that have led to the current situation in Syria. He said: “Outside laws which penalize states and people who dare to send help to Syria add to the unjust sanctions and multiply the shortages.”

A combination of factors, including international sanctions and the financial meltdown of key trading partner Lebanon, have led to food prices skyrocketing in Syria.

Before fighting broke out in 2011, a 2lb loaf of bread cost around 10 cents—today, a 1lb loaf costs between 6 and 30 times as much. In February 2020, the Syrian government introduced “smart cards,” giving families access to rationed amounts of staple foods, including bread, rice and tea, at subsidized prices.

But to obtain these foods they must wait in long lines, often for several hours. Archbishop Nassar said: “Syria sees its people leaving home very early in the morning so that they can get a place in the queue in front of the bakeries, the food stores, petrol stations, and bus stops.” He added: “To stay standing for a long time is tiring in itself, so some bring folding stools while others sit down on the ground… the handicapped and the elderly have the first place. Impatient military personnel rarely join the queue.”

Archbishop Samir Nassar

According to Archbishop Nassar the international community must take its share of responsibility for the current situation. He also explained that the current conditions mean Syrians cannot begin to move past the civil war, which the UN and Arab League Envoy to Syria has killed an estimated 400,000 people.

The Maronite archbishop’s comments echoed those made by Melkite Greek Catholic Archbishop Jean-Clément Jeanbart of Aleppo earlier this year. Archbishop Jeanbart told ACN: “The sanctions have no result other than making people suffer and become poor and miserable. They will have no effect on the government and their policies, because the government is shielded from the effects of the sanctions.”

Since the conflict in Syria began, ACN has provided emergency aid for Syria, offering food baskets, milk and medicine, as well as helping families meet basic living costs, including heating and lighting, with aid prioritizing the poorest, the sick and the elderly.

The organization is committed to helping Christians to stay in the country, amid reports of a sharp decline in the numbers of the faithful, many of whom have fled persecution as well as dire poverty.

—Fionn Shiner