News / Middle East

Border Traders Hit Hard by Syrian Sanctions, Violence

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Henry Ridgwell

The government crackdown in Syria is having economic reverberations across the region. In addition to sanctions imposed on Syria, many transport firms are finding it too risky to enter Syria. That's having consequences on traders on both sides of the frontier.

At the Cilvegozu border crossing in Turkey, the trickle of trucks, cars and people coming from Syria bear testament to the violence beyond the frontier. The latest arrivals are two cars bearing Saudi Arabian license plates. The doors and windows are ridden with bullet holes.

The Turkish occupants had been travelling back to their jobs in Saudi when they came under attack just a few kilometers into Syria. One of the drivers, Nesim Zeytinci describes what happened.

“We were driving in Syria," he said. "As we went over a bridge, we were attacked by some gunmen but we don’t know who they were. We sped off for around 500 meters under fire, then we turned off into a local neighborhood and the people there helped us. An ambulance came to take the injured passenger to hospital.”

There is now a permanent queue of trucks waiting on the Turkish side; drivers say sometimes it stretches 10 kilometers. Transport firms are increasingly wary of sending people and cargo into Syria.

“There is no security and the latest information we have is that on the Syrian side of the border they don’t give you your paperwork," said Mehmet Eski, who is supposed to be delivering drilling pipes to Dubai. "We were here waiting for a couple of days for our Saudi visas, we finally got those but now there is no security in Syria so we cannot go. Last night in the news,” he added, “the Foreign Minister and governor of Antakya warned people not to go to Syria unless they really have to.”

Eski’s transport company decided to re-route the shipment via Iraq - a much longer route and not without its own dangers.

But it’s not just the violence that’s hitting trade.

Turkey has imposed financial and travel sanctions on the Syrian government. The U.S. and the European Union are tightening their economic sanctions on Syrian banks and oil firms

But questions remain over their effectiveness, says London-based analyst Shashank Joshi of Royal United Services Institute.

“If the Arab League imposes very harsh sanctions, with the U.N. or by itself, would they be policed? We know Syria’s borders with Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq are long and porous, it’s very hard to police sanctions," said Joshi. "Just like we saw in the 1990's with Iraq, would oil embargoes or restrictions on goods really be effective, can we stop stuff coming in and out of Syria?”

Effective or not, Joshi says sanctions are the option of choice for keeping international pressure on the Syrian government. That leaves commerce in limbo with world powers lacking an appetite for military intervention as violence inside Syria worsens.

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