Flood-affected communities in Lorestan Province have been provided with temporary shelters by the Iranian Red Crescent Society, mainly near their villages. NRC distributes essential items needed to address their immediate needs. These include hygiene kits that contain items such as toothbrushes, toothpaste, soap, shampoo, washing powder - made possible through support rapidly mobilised by the governments of Norway and Sweden and the EU. Photo: Hamidreza Fakhar/NRC

Future of aid work at risk in Iran due to U.S. sanctions

Published 05. Aug 2019
The delivery of aid to Afghan refugees and flood victims in Iran is at risk because banks are refusing to transfer money to aid agencies due to fear of sanctions.

The Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) is calling on donor governments to enable humanitarian organisations to continue to reach vulnerable people in Iran.

“Humanitarian organisations are left hamstrung by politically motivated sanctions that now punish the poorest. We have now, for a full year, tried to find banks that are able and willing to transfer money from donors to support our work for Afghan refugees and disaster victims in Iran, but we are hitting brick walls on every side,” said Secretary-General of NRC Jan Egeland.

The sanctions imposed by the U.S. on Iran are so comprehensive that banks are unwilling to facilitate transfers for humanitarian work. If all bank channels are blocked, then so is the delivery of critical aid to people in need.

“Norwegian and other international banks are afraid of U.S. sanctions to transfer the money that governments have given for our vital aid work,” Egeland explained.

More than three million Afghans, one of the world's largest refugee populations, are living in Iran, and some of them have been there for the past four decades. In addition, 10 million vulnerable men, women and children are trying to recover from the effects of devastating floods in March. Many are critically dependent on humanitarian aid for access to food, water and shelter.

“Refugee families are already skipping meals due to the growing economic crisis. They are selling the few assets they have to cover basic costs. Many Afghans that had some work in tailoring have been laid off because of sanctions that lead to workshop closures,” he added. “Our cash assistance programme allows thousands of families to cope with this worsening situation. This lifeline cannot be discontinued."

The Norwegian Refugee Council is the largest of only five international NGOs working in Iran along with the UN. All aid organisations are impacted by the consequences of existing sanctions.

“As humanitarians on the ground, it is our responsibility to draw attention to this neglected, but devastating collateral damage of the US-Iranian tension that appears to escalate every day. The U.S. and European donor governments must find ways to enable humanitarian organisations to operate. We need clear arrangements that will assure banks that they can move donor money into Iran for humanitarian purposes without fear of legal penalties. We need a solution that will prevent millions of vulnerable people from slipping deeper into emergency levels of poverty and hardship.”

This is an updated version of a press release issued early morning on Monday, 5th August 2019.