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Indiegogo raised a few eyebrows earlier this week when news emerged that the crowdfunding platform suspended a campaign to raise money for a family stuck in Aleppo, Syria’s embattled second city.
Julie Angus, a Canadian of Syrian descent, was looking to raise $10,000 for her relatives from friends, family, and anyone else in the charitable holiday spirit. A molecular biologist and, along with her husband, an adventurer, she offered a number of perks in return for donations, including her films and books, as well as training in an Air Canada flight simulator.
After raising $2,500 in a day and a half, however, the campaign was suspended.
Indiegogo’s reason for pulling the campaign is America’s sanctions on Syria, and the company claims it needed to check whether Angus’ fundraiser violates Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) regulations. Sanctions against Syria have been in place for some time, and have been revamped since violent outbreaks took over the Middle Eastern country.
The sanctions are strict, targeting institutions, companies, and individuals tied to the Bashar Al Assad regime. In August 2011, then-acting OFEC director Barbara Hammerle signed a decree allowing “noncommercial, personal remittances” to be sent to the country. Angus argued to Indiegogo representatives that this allows her to collect funds and send them to her family in Syria.
The same decree, though, goes on to specify that charitable donations of funds do not fall into the category of “noncommercial, personal remittances.” Perhaps this was giving Indiegogo pause? (We reached out to Indiegogo for comment and will update our readers if we hear back.)
Ahed Al Hendi, a Syrian dissident, says he understands why the incident has stirred up some controversy. Al Hendi fled his home nation after being imprisoned and tortured for starting a secular, anti-regime university group and is now the Arabic programs coordinator for the non-profit CyberDissidents.org.
“Some of the money is going to the right people, but a lot of people are using the situation in Syria to profit from it,” Al Hendi told Crowdsourcing.org. “And many others are claiming that they money is going for humanitarian [causes], but it really goes to other groups, some of which may be radical. Most of the money goes to Syria as cash, making it hard to track.”
There are several other campaigns to help Syrians on the crowdfunding platform, and it’s unclear why Angus’ campaign was flagged, while the others were not.
Updating her followers of the situation, Angus wrote yesterday that Indiegogo has established that the funds will not be used in an illegal way and apologized to her for the delay. The money already raised will either be refunded or eventually make it to Angus, depending on whether “[Indiegogo’s] banks will process the funds.” For the time being, however, the campaign remains suspended.
Instead of waiting for the banks' decision, Angus has already teamed up with the Canadian platform FundRazr to launch a new crowdfunding campaign. At the time of this writing, that campaign had raised over $3000; this includes the $2500 raised on Indiegogo, assuming that money is eventually released.
Angus says she regrets that her campaign lost its initial momentum – she specifically timed it to launch around the holiday season. That doesn't mean, however, her campaign will fail to reach its $10,000 goal. After all, human compassion, especially for those who are truly in need, runs all year 'round.
Though Indiegogo is known for being a platform open to (virtually) anyone, it has pulled at least one controversial campaign in the past, one that involved a 3D printable weapon – read all about it here.