Syria’s Catholic bishops have launched a petition through the international online platform Change.org requesting an end to the European Union sanctions on the country, arguing they have a negative impact on people’s daily lives.
Six Catholic bishops, including Archbishop Jean Clément Jeanbart, Greek Catholic Archbishop of Aleppo, and emeritus Holy Land Custodian Fr. Pierbattista Pizzaballa, together with several religious communities, launched the petition asking the EU to make the sanctions on Syria public, so they can be known and become the “subject of a serious debate.”
The sanctions against the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad were introduced in 2011, imposing an oil embargo on the country, blocking all financial transactions, and prohibiting the trade of many goods and products.
“[The] measure still lasts today, although in 2012 the oil embargo in the areas controlled by the armed and jihadist opposition was removed, in order to provide economic resources to the so-called ‘revolutionary forces of the opposition,’” says the petition.
According to the petitioners, in the last five years the sanctions against Syria have helped destroy a country marred by civil war and the rise of Islamic fundamentalist groups such as ISIS.
They claim that the sanctions have condemned Syrian society to hunger, epidemics, poverty, and even encouraged fundamentalist militia fighters “who now strike also in Europe.”
“The situation in Syria is desperate,” they write, citing “food shortages, widespread unemployment, lack of access to medical care, rationing of drinking water [and] electricity.”
In addition to the local situation, they point out, the sanctions make it impossible for Syrians who fled the country before the war to send money to their relatives or family members left behind, something which also affects non-governmental organizations engaged in assistance programs because they can’t send money to employees.
“Syrians see the possibility of a viable future for families only if they run away from their land,” they say, adding that “escaping can’t be the only solution that the international community can propose to these poor people.”
The petitioners also write that they appreciate “every humanitarian and peace initiative that the international community is implementing, in particular through the difficult negotiations in Geneva.”
However, as they wait for negotiations to find concrete resolutions for the crisis, they ask “that sanctions that affect the daily lives of every Syrian are immediately removed.”
The appeal was published on Monday afternoon European time, as global and regional powers are gathered in Vienna hoping to restart peace talks aimed at halting Syria’s ongoing civil war.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, and the United Nations special envoy to Syria Staffan de Mistura, together with other leaders from the 17-nation International Syria Support Group (ISSG), are taking part in the discussions.
On Tuesday, those participating confirmed their support for an end to the violence and the need for immediate humanitarian access to besieged communities.