Tuesday, 23 February 2010
USA ends Syria travel "warning" but keeps financial sanctions
The USA has withdrawn its official "warning" regarding travel to Syria by US citizens, but has kept in place all of its economic sanctions against certain Syrian nationals, including the Syrian government.
Unfortunately, neither the official announcement that the warning has been withdrawn, nor the updated country-specific information for Syria from the State Department makes clear the risks posed by those economic sanctions to US citizens or residents who travel (legally) to Syria, or the precautions you need to take if you want to visit Syria (as I hope you will -- it's a fascinating country where, in general, people go further out their way to welcome and assist foreign visitors, especially those from the USA, than almost any other country I've ever visited).
Everything I said in this blog entry a year ago remains true:
It's legal for citizens and residents of the USA to travel to Syria as tourists, and to spend money in Syria, but some banks and financial services providers in the USA have imposed their own private corporate sanctions, not disclosed to their customers, and not just against those entities designated by the government of the USA, but against anyone and everyone who travels to Syria, regardless of whether they do anything that violates the US government's sanctions.
The U.S. government cracks down hard on banks that, even inadvertently, violate the sanctions, but does nothing against banks that go overboard and block legitimate transactions or freeze customer funds. Whether or not that's government's intent, its lopsided enforcement practices give banks a strong incentive to choose to implement private sanctions.
Don't rely on your bank to disclose their practices. To avoid possible problems, get enough cash (US dollars or Euros) before you arrive in Syria to cover all the costs of your stay. Don't use credit or ATM cards (virtually all of which are affiliated with US-based financial networks) in Syria. Don't visit Web sites of US-based banks or other financial institutions or make phone calls to such institutions while you are in Syria.
None of this is required by law, but it might keep you away from serious problems such as those I had.
For what it's worth, Syria is a police sate, with the usual mix of implications for visitors. The Syrian government's national censorship firewall -- which also blocks most blogging Web sites and encrypted protocols -- is likely to make it difficult or impossible to access foreign financial Web sites, or to do so securely, even if those foreign sites don't restrict access from what they think are Syrian IP addresses, or retaliate silently against account holders.
Moral of the story: Visit Syria, but bring cash.Link | Posted by Edward on Tuesday, 23 February 2010, 13:45 ( 1:45 PM) | TrackBack (0)