Idlib: What if Money Stops Coming Across the Border?

Translated by: Sailer Perkins

Indications of a new phase of life unfolding in the northern Syrian Idlib province have emerged with Turkey’s decision to restrict the import of “non-humanitarian” materials across the Bab al-Howa border point. The border crossing currently acts as the artery of the province, and the decision to limit its use is accompanied by a wave of rumors around the cutoff of support for organizations working in Idlib.
Officially issued decisions regarding the end of support for these organizations and institutions have contributed to the spread of this concerning speculation. A decision by the Syrian Interim Government to consider its employees as “volunteers” has been in place since the beginning of August, and a similar decision was issued by the Free Idlib Health Directorate.
In a previous conversation, Doctor Jawad Abu Hatab said to The Syrian Voice that “the interim government’s decision has resulted in numerous developments in Idlib, and the reluctance of many donors to pay.”
Talk of potential economic effects on Idlib, and the possibility of the cessation of support for the province, began after fighting between Ahrar as-Sham and Tahrir as-Sham ended with the latter’s capture of the province on July 23.
However, in reality organizations operating in Idlib have continued their work despite ending some projects around the same time as Tahrir as-Sham’s ascension to power. The group’s classification as a terrorist organization provides fertile ground for rumors about the termination of support for the province, despite the fact of the situation. In any case, the question remains unanswered: “What happens if the trans-border money to Idlib ends?”
A correspondent for The Syrian Voice in Idlib spoke with Osama al-Hussein, director of an enablement project for the Idlib Health Directorate under the organization “Uossm.” Al-Hussein asserted that “there is no retraction in the activities of organizations working in northern Syria. However, the rumors about the termination of support are in line with the chaos that the Idlib province is living in, in the middle of the conflict between Tahrir as-Sham and Ahrar as-Sham.”
Al-Hussein confirmed that the end of a project to support the Idlib Health Directorate, and the Directorate’s issuance of statement regarding this, were routine and legal procedures. However, he stated that the events came at a time that only bolstered rumors taking hold among the citizens.
The organization Syria Relief and Development (SRD) currently operates in Idlib and was among those which ended funding for a number of their projects at the end of July.
Abeed Dendoush, the response manager for SRD, commented to The Syrian Voice that “funding for several of our projects ended at the end of last month, but this is a routine matter. We have secured funding from another body to complete our work.” He called attention to the fact that organizations like SRD operate on limited time intervals with their funding backers, according to the goals of the project and the involved parties.
In a conversation with The Syrian Voice, Dendoush did not conceal the fears of some organizations that support for their projects in Syria indeed may stop. Among these are the projects of the Qatar Charity Institute and the RAF Foundation. However, the ongoing Gulf Crisis between Qatar and its peninsula neighbors Saudi Arabia the United Arab Emirates is the source of this worry, not the developments in Idlib.
In reference to fears that the stream of money to organizations in Idlib might cut off, Osama al-Hussein said “if organizations stop their work, it reflects first on the services provided to civilians and secondly on the economic situation of the organizations’ employees.” Hussein indicated that the work of these organizations in the last years has been a temporary relief for citizens, and not a sustainable improvement of services.
Speaking in terms of numbers may help to clarify the size of the potential crisis if it should occur. For example, the organization Violet Syria injects nearly 200 thousand dollars into northern Syria monthly according to Fuad Sayyed Issa, the organization’s deputy director in Syria.
Sayyed Issa estimates that around ten organizations each spend around 200 to 400 thousand dollars monthly in the north of Syria (Idlib and Aleppo countryside), and about 100 to 200 organizations spend nearly 100 thousand dollars monthly.
The number of organizations spending amounts less than ten thousand dollars monthly likely exceeds 300, according to Sayyed Aisa’s estimation.
Sayyed Issa stated that in the last eight months, Violet Syria paid out nearly ten thousand grants of 110 USD each through the grant program MBG. These grants reached beneficiaries from across the societal spectrum, including newly arrived refugees to northern Syria.
The organization also carried out a project called “Money for Work.” This program provides aid to civilians in Idlib by way of temporary job opportunities helping Violet Syria implement public service projects in Idlib. This project alone requires 200 thousand USD monthly, according to Sayyed Issa.
These numbers provide a clearer image of the magnitude of the cash pumped by humanitarian and medical organizations into the “liberated” northern Syria, as well as the extent of its influence on generating financial liquidity and stimulating local markets.
In this regard, Mr. Samir Qawas, a financial sector mentor for civil society organizations in Idlib and an executive member of the organization “People in Need,” said, “the money injected into the opposition areas represents an economic lifeline there.”
According to Mr. Qawas, the organizations’ money stimulates the economy of Idlib in a number of ways. Most importantly, this includes salaries and wages for volunteers and teams, payment for commodity and in-kind services, direct cash provision projects, and purchases of materials and services inside Syria.
Hassam al-Shamy, an economic expert working for a relief organization in Turkey, said to The Syrian Voice that “the influx of foreign money from donating bodies to organizations working in northern Syria, and the latter’s work providing aid and paying costs in the Syrian lira, contributes to the slowed depreciation of the lira’s value.”
Al-Shamy clarified, saying “foreign currency crosses the border, but financial transactions in Idlib are conducted in Syrian lira. This leads to an increase in demand for the lira.”
It is difficult to estimate the total value of money flowing into “liberated” northern Syria in light of the various founding sources and the absence of a single authority to organize the financial sector in Idlib. However, data shows that opposition areas’ economy are linked by money crossing the border from humanitarian and medical organizations, and that the stoppage or reduction of this money would indeed have noticeable effects on the civilians of the region.

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