US Relaxes Syria Sanctions for Food Needs, Humanitarian Aid, Infrastructure Rebuilding, Other Purposes

This report was published by Syrian Democratic Times on 17 December, 2021

The Syria sanctions were relaxed on November 26, 2021, when the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) of the US Department of Treasury issued a new amendment to the Syria sanctions. OFAC Amendment to General License, CFR Section 542.516 relaxes the existing sanctions to allow nonprofit organizations (also called NGOs) to conduct new transactions to meet humanitarian needs.

Under the new amendment, nonprofit organizations can transact with entities in Syria to offer humanitarian aid, invest in non-commercial development projects, and generally conduct food/medical/education aid and assistance, as well as other activities. An OFAC general license (GL) is often called an “exemption” to the sanctions. A basic guide to the OFAC sanctions published by OFAC makes clear the additional transactions that are permitted.

According to new guidance issued by OFAC, nonprofit organizations can now conduct the following transactions in service of humanitarian efforts: 

  • the provision of healthcare and health-related services (such as the restoration of health facilities; the distribution of medical equipment, supplies, and pharmaceuticals; and technical training for and supervision of healthcare workers); 
  • the provision of educational support and training services (such as the rehabilitation of local schools, the provision of training and equipment support to local educators, training and equipment support to local officials on the operations and management of critical infrastructure, and the provision of vocational and business management training); 
  • the provision of agricultural-related services (such as the refurbishment of mills, silos, and bakeries to improve food security; the provision of veterinary health services and pharmaceuticals to promote the health of livestock; and training and distribution of agricultural related items); and
  • activities related to shelter and settlement assistance, and clean water assistance (such as the rehabilitation and restoration of conflict-damaged water systems, sanitation, and hygiene infrastructure; supplying associated spare parts, training, and support for maintenance of equipment; and rehabilitation of irrigation pumps and canals).

The relaxed sanctions also make banking easier. New guidance on transactions clarifies that nonprofit organizations are now permitted to access financial services, such as using a US bank account to pay for transactions, transfer funds in or out of Syria, or finance equipment rentals, to support their legal transactions. 

Organizations wishing to do business with entities located in North and East Syria often encounter difficulty as there are few ways to get material goods into or out of the autonomous region. The United Nations Security Council failed to renew humanitarian border access to al-Yaroubiah border crossing, which would offer the most direct access to North and East Syria. The Semalka border crossing from the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) into North and East Syria is currently the most reliable method for transferring goods into the region. Sending money via Western Union is often the most popular way to transact with individuals located in Syria, as banking systems have been destabilized through the past decade.

This amendment represents a shift in US government approvals for transactions with Syria. The purpose of the GL is to permit transactions without the need for any further US government approval. No additional OFAC license is needed for applicable transactions. All shipments must still comply with basic international shipping and standard US export laws.