12/10/2019, 10.36
SYRIA - LEBANON
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Lebanese crisis, inflation and low liquidity levels, crippling Syrian economy

The Syrian lira is exchanged one to one to the dollar, never so low. In the past Lebanese institutions were the only entry channel for foreign currency. Transition restrictions block its circulation. Capital of wealthy Syrian businessmen frozen. And the population is increasingly worried. Maronite Archbishop of Damascus: "Pray for us".

Damascus (AsiaNews) - The political crisis in Lebanon, the lack of liquidity and international sanctions are also affecting neighboring Syria with growing force, increasingly burying a population already marked by eight years of conflict.

Just to give an example, in recent days the local currency, the Syrian lira, on the black market has collapsed [one to 1000] against the dollar, setting a new negative record.

This is added on to the growing liquidity crisis in the neighboring Lebanon, a long standing reserve for foreign currency.

In recent years, particularly in the darkest moments of the war, Lebanon was the only access channel for the entry of the dollar into areas of Syria under government control. A specialized website set the exchange rate against the dollar at 975 lira, more than twice the figure above the official rate of 434 pounds.

In 2011, the year the war began, one dollar was trading at 48 Syrian pounds.

In the old city, in Damascus, a merchant who prefers to remain anonymous states that all goods and services, from food to transport, have jumped in price in recent weeks. "In the last two months - he says - they have doubled. And everyone, he adds, sells their goods on the black market following the current exchange rate".

Syrian analyst Samuel Ramani confirms that the value of the local currency has fallen by 30% since the start of anti-government protests in neighboring Lebanon on 17 October.

The crisis also had serious repercussions for the Syrians, many of whom - due to the war - opened an activity in Lebanon, where they placed savings and used local channels for the importation of goods and goods.

However, since the summer the Lebanese banks have introduced restrictive checks on withdrawals of dollars, putting a strain on their circulation on the Syrian markets.

Recently the Maronite archbishop of Damascus Samir Nassar confirmed to AsiaNews the repercussions on Syria of the Lebanese crisis, where austerity is accompanied by "greater solidarity".

"The situation is still difficult - the prelate tells us today - especially in this time of Christmas there is a crisis" which negatively affects "all social activities", for this "I renew the invitation to pray for us".

The critical situation does not only affect, as often happens, the poorest: the decision of the Lebanese banks to strengthen checks on monetary transactions and the transfer of capital has - in fact - made the funds of the wealthier Syrians inaccessible.

Businessmen, entrepreneurs and bankers at home and abroad agree in stating that the flow of money, and dollars, from Lebanon to Syria has effectively been halted.

Sources close to credit institutions speak of billions in dollars deposited in Lebanese banks by wealthy Syrians; in these years of war, the accrued interests have been an important source of livelihood for the Damascus economy.

Furthermore, the effects of the crisis are also felt for Syrian migrant workers in Lebanon, who have seen wages and jobs reduced. "The Syrians have been hit more than others," says expert Kamal Hamdan.

The entrepreneur who deals with imports in the food sector adds "traders no longer deposit their lira in banks. They try to exchange them for dollars and this has triggered a further increase in demand”.

He concludes that people are increasingly "scared" because "even if these powerful businessmen can't do something, it means that the situation is progressively getting worse".

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