U.S. Sanctions Are Killing Innocent Syrians

by Hasan Ismaik
  • Publisher – Foreign Policy
  • Release Date – Apr 10, 2021

A friend of mine was found dead in his bed this past winter because he had no heating. Why? Because U.S. sanctions are hurting ordinary people rather than Bashar al-Assad’s government; there is only an hour or so of electricity per day.

Last month, my phone rang. A relative in Damascus asked me to help a young Syrian child, Mohammed Daafis. Two-year-old Mohammed’s family uses a Primus kerosene stove, a Victorian-era product, for cooking. There is no boiler for running hot water in the shower. Electricity rationing in Syria has reached its highest levels due to the government’s inability to secure the fuel needed to generate electricity as a result of international sanctions.

Like any child of his age, Mohammed was playing with his siblings—in a 300-square-foot dark house. Mohammed fell into a tub of hot water heated by his mother on the Primus stove. She moved away for a chore momentarily, but in the dark house, Mohammed did not see the tub.

Hearing his screams, his mother ran to him. His father, a street vendor, confined to a wheelchair due to a wounded leg from the war, rushed to him as fast as he could. They hurried the scalded boy to the Al Mojtahed Hospital in Damascus, a government-run facility. The burned and bleeding child’s condition worsened. He then needed a blood transfusion.

The government doctors stood helpless in the face of his pain and suffering. The transfused blood was infected. Mohammed’s family now urgently needed to transfer him to a private hospital, but how does a father who sells tomatoes in a trolley foot the bill?

The value of the Syrian pound has plummeted to almost nothing; it is now about 3,660 pounds to the U.S. dollar. An average wage in Syria is less than $2 a day; Mohammed’s father did not make even a dollar a day. The Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act of 2019, a law signed by then-U.S. President Donald Trump, was sold as a win for the forces of justice against a brutal government. But the act has not brought justice; instead it has brought starvation, darkness, plague, misery, robbery, kidnappings, and the destruction of a nation. International aid no longer reaches Syria to the extent it did previously because many agencies fear falling foul of the Caesar Act.

This is not about Assad; just as we do not choose where we are born, Syrians did not choose their government. Faced with sanctions, Assad will rely on Iranian support, which will bring even more harm to Syria as ordinary citizens continue to suffer.

Mohammed’s father turned to my relative, who sent me shockingly graphic pictures of the boy’s burns. Traumatized, I made every effort to help. After much difficulty, Mohammed was admitted to a private hospital, but in Syria, even the private hospitals are not equipped as they are in the rest of the world. Remember how the United States and United Kingdom all struggled to acquire personal protective equipment during the early days of the pandemic? Syrians are still living that experience daily due to a shortage of oxygen and basic medical supplies.



Hasan Ismaik