Syria Earthquake: India Shows Sanctions Cannot Stop Humanitarian Assistance

Turkey- Syria earthquake: The west must learn from India that humanitarianism comes before political considerations.

5 min read
Hindi Female
Edited By :Ahamad Fuwad

Turkey has received overwhelming support from the global community in the aftermath of the deadly 7.8 magnitude earthquake that struck it on Monday, 6 February.

Countries from all parts of the world have pledged aid to Ankara, especially its NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) partners to the west, including the United States and Britain.

However, conflict-torn Syria, which also bore the brunt of the earthquake, seems to have been left in the lurch. Over 3,000 people in Syria have been confirmed dead and lakhs rendered homeless due to what is now being called the 'century's worst disaster.'

India Provides Aid While the West Remains Nonchalant

India, however, has been an exception in this regard, and has pledged assistance to both countries under a humanitarian assistance mission – Operation Dost.

So far, India has sent six tonnes of emergency relief assistance to Syria. This includes three truckloads of protective gear, emergency use medicines, ECG machines, and other medical items, according to the Ministry of External Affairs.

Thanking India for its contributions, Syrian Ambassador to India Bassam Alkhatib said, "We really appreciate people, Government of India for support, this is the voice of the south we want to see in the future," WION reported.

Some of the other countries that have offered to help Syria include Algeria, China, Iraq, Lebanon, Qatar, Iran, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, and the United Arab Emirates. Israel also claimed that it had provided aid to Syria, but the latter slammed this as a "false" statement.

However, countries in Western Europe and North America have not shown the same kind of kind of enthusiasm to assist Syria, and have overwhelmingly focused on providing humanitarian aid to Turkey instead.

For instance, US President Joe Biden issued a strong statement in support of Turkey, but mentioned Syria only as an afterthought in one of his statements.


Here it is in full:

"My administration has been working closely with our NATO Ally Turkiye, and I authorised an immediate US response. At my direction, senior American officials reached out immediately to their Turkish counterparts to coordinate any and all needed assistance. Our teams are deploying quickly to begin to support Turkish search and rescue efforts and address the needs of those injured and displaced by the earthquake. US-supported humanitarian partners are also responding to the destruction in Syria."

Similarly, while the Canadian government said that it had allocated around $50 million in humanitarian assistance to Syria for 2023, the impact of this has not been felt on the ground to a great extent.

Provided that since the scale of devastation in Turkey is much higher, the country should get a proportionately higher level of aid. However, the aid that is reaching Syria is still far from enough.

Why Is Syria Being 'Ignored' by the West? 

Syria has been in the midst of a fierce civil war since 2011, when the extended Arab Spring spilled over into the country.

Several factions against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad came into being to oppose his rule, and continue to do so even today. With assistance from the US, the Syrian rebels and the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) have managed to repel the government forces and establish certain strongholds for themselves throughout the country.

Even today, the Syrian government is under strict sanctions by the US, the European Union, Australia, Canada, and Switzerland.

It is because of these sanctions that the west is not extending a helping hand to Syria, even as the earthquake has doubled down and extended the already dire humanitarian catastrophe in the country. Because of the sanctions, many of the US' partners have also not been able to extend a helping hand.

Kabir Taneja, a Fellow at the Observer Research Foundation, told The Quint, "The international community must get past its reservations and provide whatever they can to Syria as it hosts millions of internally displaced people due to the conflict, that have already been suffering for years with little relief in any shape or form."

Millions of people were already dependent on humanitarian aid before the earthquake, especially in the rebel-controlled areas of the country. This figure is likely to increase massively – thus adding to the woes of a country that has already suffered too much in the last 12 years.

Speaking at the United Nations on Monday, Bassam al-Sabbagh, a representative of the Syrian government, appealed for the removal of western sanctions on the country, arguing that it was obstructing the inflow of much-needed aid.

India can be used as an example in this regard, as it has extended assistance to the war-torn country regardless of the sanctions placed on it by important partners.

When asked whether sanctions were impeding the inflow of aid into Syria, MEA Secretary (West) Sanjay Verma said that sanctions do not cover humanitarian challenges.

"At this point in time, I think what should be uppermost in the mind is the G20 mantra, 'One Earth, One Family, One Future.' And in all of this, the present becomes a testing ground on how we as humans come together," Verma said during a special press briefing on Wednesday.

In March 2021 as well, when the world was in the throes of the COVID-19 pandemic, India had shown incredible empathy towards Syria and urged the international community to provide sanctions relief "without discrimination, politicisation, and any preconditions."

Lack of Trust in the Assad Govt

Another reason for the lack of aid extended to Syria is the lack of trust in the Assad government.

The US and NATO have accused Assad and his regime of suppressing citizens' rights and suspending democracy, in addition to using fear and violence as a tool to intimidate the public. Not only this, western countries have even accused the Syrian government of using chemical weapons against its citizens.

Hence, there is a lack of trust inherent in the west, that the government may not distribute aid in accordance with the donor's intent.

"There is a concern among activists that aid sent through Syrian government won’t reach those who need it. The Assad government has often been accused of diverting aid to areas it is supported in and not to rebel-held areas which are badly hit in the quake," Anchal Vohra, a West Asia expert and columnist for the Foreign Policy magazine, told The Quint.

Further, around half of the Syrians impacted by the earthquake live in areas controlled by the Assad government, which is under heavy sanctions.

Another difficulty is that the only crossing between Syria and Turkey which is approved by the UN for movement of aid into Syria has become dysfunctional because of damage caused to roads around it due to the earthquake.

The crossing, called Bab al-Hawa, has for long been the only link for UN aid to reach areas held by opponents of the Assad regime amid the civil war.

"Sanctions have an indirect impact on relief and rescue efforts. While there are no sanctions on provision of humanitarian aid, shortage of fuel and electricity is linked to sanctions and that scarcity is making relief and rescue harder," Vohra said.

However, if one clears the diplomatic and political clutter, the one fact that comes out glaringly is the suffering of the common Syrian man, woman, and child. They lack the most basic facilities, and while the government and the west tussle among themselves for control over the country, the common Syrian's dream of having a "normal" life moves further and further away. 

The civil war has already killed at least 3,00,000 civilians since it began in 2011. The earthquake has so far killed over 3,000, rendered millions homeless, and continues to kill dozens more by the day – many of whom could have been saved if geopolitical considerations did not come in the way of aid.

Through its actions, based on the principle of 'Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam,' India has shown that humanitarianism must come before politics in times of dire need. But is the west listening? Is the Assad government?

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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Topics:  Sanctions   aid   Turkey-Syria Earthquake 

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