On Jul. 12-13, 2023, the Charity & Security Network (C&SN) attended a regional meeting and working dialogue in Rome hosted by the Carter Center, the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, and the Italian Institute for International Political Studies (ISPI).

Over the course of the two-day convening, civil society organizations (CSOs), researchers, and think tanks discussed issues faced by Syrian minority communities, the Middle East, the U.S., and European Union (EU)-related interests and concerns regarding Syria, the impact of Syria-targeted sanctions on the surrounding region, and practical solutions that incorporate a continuing and impactful dialogue going forward. The convening also covered the recent development of Syria re-joining the Arab League and its potential implications and opportunities. 

Syria continues to be destabilized by one of the largest humanitarian crises in the world. The country has experienced conflict and violence over the past twelve years after a peaceful uprising in 2011 was met with deadly force by the government, resulting in a full-scale civil war. The situation in Syria was exacerbated by the recent Syria-Turkey earthquakes in Feb. 2023, which killed over 50,000 people between Syria and Turkey. 

Experts in disaster relief have stated that the necessary reconstruction and rebuilding from this earthquake will be a generational effort. In light of the magnitude of this disaster, strict sanctions regimes on Syria, and already-existing hurdles for access to funding for humanitarian aid due to de-risking by banks, the U.S. Treasury Department issued Syria General License (GL) 23 to authorize transactions in support of earthquake relief to Syria for six months. The United Kingdom (U.K), Switzerland, and the EU issued similar exemptions to authorize transactions for earthquake relief to ensure that humanitarian aid can continue to flow to Syria.

The convening addressed the impact of sanctions on Syria and the resulting banking and funding issues that stem from these policies. The centrality of sanctions and de-risking by the banking sector were identified as key issues to be solved in order to achieve humanitarian objectives and stabilization in the region. Furthermore, the continuation of the flow of humanitarian aid, recently jeopardized after Russia moved to block the extension of a UN cross-border operation that delivers aid to millions of people in Syria from Turkey, was identified as critical for Syria and its recovery.

At the convening, attendees collaborated to identify practical and impactful solutions to keep the Syria humanitarian crisis a priority for policymakers in the U.S. and EU. Proposed solutions included the extension of U.S. Syria GL 23 and other countries’ exemptions, engagement with Syrian civil society and continued support for a localized response in the region, and continued advocacy in the U.S. and EU.

There was consensus that multi-layered issues in Syria will require a complex response that centers around human-rights based approaches and addressing the reality of the impact that sanctions have in the region. C&SN looks forward to continuing this dialogue and to further engagement with Syrian civil society, policymakers, and fellow actors working to explore sustainable solutions and to ensure the flow of humanitarian aid to Syria.