Syria NGOs say bank anti-terror rules hindering aid

Paris (AFP) –


A coalition of Franco-Syrian NGOs on Thursday warned that their aid operations for the war-scarred country were being stymied by stepped up moves by governments and banks to curb the financing of terror groups.

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.

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.