In April 2018, in collaboration with three other French-Syrian NGOs (CODSSY, Women Now and INS), we published the report “Is Help Allowed? How French financial institutions hinder humanitarian action in Syria”. This report was denouncing how financial institutions refuse their services to humanitarian organisations working in Syria in order to avoid their monitoring obligations.
The release of the report and the publication of an open letter of 28 French-Syrian NGOs has made progress. In June 2018, an inter-ministerial meeting gathered different actors : Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Economy and Finances, representatives of NGOs, including ASML/Syria and CODSSY, and representatives of banking institutions, in order to find solutions. In January 2019, ASML/Syria and CODSSY were interviewed by the Commission of Foreign Affairs of the National Assembly to evaluate the impact of the anti-terrorism financing policy on humanitarian action.
In parallel, some associations are leading individual actions, such as Tous pour la Syrie, which is suing the payment institution Lemon Way for having shut down their crowdfunding campaign. In early February, Tous pour la Syrie was participating, along with CODSSY, in the conference “Is Help Allowed? Wen digital services hinder humanitarian action for Syria” as part of the Festival for Digital Liberties in Rennes.
The report brought attention to this problem and created momentum at the highest level of the State to solve it. The problem: difficulties remain. Recently, we have faced new difficulties during our last crowdfunding campaign: “Journalists in Danger”. Indeed, the great majority of donations made via Paypal have been denied, which represents 37 donations on 42 (88%), for a total amount of 1 211€ (see on the left). This denial has been executed without any justification nor control. Paypal did not even contact us or ask for additional information. Donations have not been frozen while waiting for more information, but have simply been denied and recredited on donators bank accounts. In addition to the financial damage, this constitutes a significant prejudice in terms of reputation.
Evidently, the problem remains and continues to hinder humanitarian action in Syria, whether it is carried out by small associations or big international NGOs. We are definitely in favor of strict standards and investigations for transactions towards countries where the terrorist risk is strong. However, by shirking their obligations of real investigation, and by refusing their services to all humanitarian actors working in conflict zones, the banking institutions facilitate further suffering and indirectly to reinforce local extremist groups.
Despite significant progress, we note that many difficulties remain and do not only concern France. The next step will then involve bringing our efforts to the European level. Finding the balance between efficient anti-financing terrorism policy and humanitarian action is key for France and EU to succeed in playing the international role that they aim for.