Iranian-Americans and other US citizens who want to aid those suffering in the aftermath of large earthquakes in Iran on Saturday have been stymied by US-supported sanctions against Iran.
“You’re seeing these photos of the victims suffering and your instinct is . . . to help people,” Mahdis Keshavarz, an Iranian-American who owns a media firm in New York, told McClatchy newspapers. “The thing getting in your way is a rule that is not humane.”
Over 300 people—mostly women and children were killed—and thousands injured in the initial earthquake and subsequent aftershocks, but aid efforts have been hampered by internal logistics and Iran's political and financial isolation imposed by Western sanctions designed to pressure the Iranian regime on its nuclear program.
According to McClatchy's report:
Charitable donations to Iran in the form of cash aren’t allowed from the United States unless they’re specifically licensed by the federal government, said John Sullivan, a spokesman for the Treasury Department.
There are a few exceptions: Food and medicine are exempt from the sanctions; Americans are allowed to donate them to ordinary Iranians without needing a license, Sullivan said. Personal remittances sent to family members and friends are allowed, but the money can’t be sent from a U.S. bank to an Iranian bank, he said.
Put into practice, though, sending money to family members poses a challenge, said David Elliott, the assistant policy director at the National Iranian American Council in Washington.
“Technically there are exemptions, but in many cases you’ll find there are no banks that will actually facilitate the transactions,” Elliott said.
Problems interpreting the sanctions persist, said Shiva Balaghi, a visiting professor of Iranian studies at Brown University.
“There’s confusion about what the sanctions mean,” she said. “Unfortunately because of this confusion, most interactions with Iran have become incredibly difficult.”
Keshavarz’s attorneys have advised her to stay away from humanitarian efforts in her home country.
“They said that doing work with Iran at this stage, even on a pro bono basis, opens me up for scrutiny,” she said.