The European Commission has published a Guidance Note on how humanitarian aid related to COVID-19 can be provided to countries and areas that are subject to EU sanctions. The Note provides practical help, in the form of questions and answers (Q&As), on how to comply with EU sanctions when providing humanitarian aid, such as medical assistance and supplies, to fight the COVID-19 pandemic. The first version of the Guidance Note covers Syria. The Commission will update it with further information on other countries subject to EU sanctions, including Yemen, Somalia and North Korea.

EU sanctions targeting Syria are set out in Council Regulation (EU) No 36/2012 – as periodically amended – and consist of a number of sectoral restrictions, such as a prohibition on exporting goods or technology which might be used for internal repression, including chemicals used in chemical attacks, and a prohibition on the local purchase and import of petroleum products. The EU framework provides for a number of exceptions, notably for humanitarian purposes. It also includes individual designations entailing notably the freezing of funds or economic resources of certain persons, entities and bodies (“designated persons”).

Since EU sanctions target specific persons and specific sectors of the Syrian economy, the majority of sectors are not targeted by EU sanctions at all. Applying principles of international law, EU sanctions do not impede the supply of humanitarian aid in the form of medicine, medical equipment and medical assistance provided to the population at large. Medical equipment, including oxygen, respirators, personal protective equipment (PPE) and ventilators as well as medicines and other medical items required to fight the COVID-19 pandemic are not subject to direct restrictions on export, supply, financing or use in Syria.

Nevertheless, in specific cases, the export, supply, financing or use of these items may be indirectly impacted by other restrictions targeting designated persons, which happen to be involved in the relevant transactions.

The Q&As provide information on the prohibition of making funds and economic resources available to designated persons. EU sanctions generally allow for funds and economic resources to be made available to designated persons if they are necessary to provide humanitarian relief or assistance to the civilian population in Syria. Prior authorization from the competent Member States authorities may be necessary in certain cases (Section I of the Q&As).

The Q&As further contain information on import and export restrictions of medical devices (in particular ventilators and powered respirators for medical purposes), medicines, disinfectants, detergents, chemicals, COVID-19 testing kits and PPE. The status of those items may be affected by their technical features. Therefore, they may be targeted by the EU sanctions and exports may be prohibited or subject to prior authorization.

The Q&As also provide information on a series of exemptions and derogations allowing certain ancillary activities (e.g. transport of medicines and medical equipment), which may otherwise be affected by specific restrictions, (e.g. prohibition on the purchase of oil products in Syria) to proceed subject to national authorization, as applicable (Sections II and III of the Q&As).

The Guidance Note also provides information on and procedural questions, mainly with regard to applications, authorizations, derogations and exemptions (Section IV of the Q&As).

By clarifying the responsibilities and processes for the provision of humanitarian aid, the Guidance Note facilitates the work of humanitarian operators and should speed up the channeling of equipment and assistance to fight the COVID-19 pandemic in Syria. It is addressed to various actors, including EU Member States authorities which are tasked with the implementation of EU sanctions, as well as public and private operators involved in humanitarian activities, such as international organizations, NGOs, donors, financial institutions and other actors.