TEHRAN, Young Journalists Club (YJC) - Tohid Najafi, a medical professional based in Detroit, US, told Qatar-based broadcaster Al Jazeera that the Treasury blocked the Facebook page he had set up Monday to raise money for the families of the victims and the survivors of the 7.3-magnitude quake, which had jolted western Iran a day earlier.
According to the latest official figures, some 432 people have lost their lives and about 9,388 others sustained injuries in the tremor. Some 12,000 homes have also been completely destroyed in the incident.
Najafi had planned to raise $110,000 over the next month, hoping that within the first day he would manage to raise up to $15,000.
On the morning of the next day, he saw that online donors had helped more than $80,000. The sum raised had surpassed $200,000 by Wednesday.
“I was very surprised,” Najafi said, saying he had doubts about hitting his goal on time.
On the first day of his fund-raising effort, Najafi received a message by Facebook, informing him the funds “will not be released,” until he delivers to the social media site the required authorization from the US Department of Treasury.
Following Najafi’s initiative, a New York-based Iranian-American journalist, Tara Kangarlou, started a separate personal fundraising campaign to help the victims of the earthquake.
Within the first 30 minutes, online donors had chipped in $2,000 on the YouCaring fundraising website.
However, YouCaring canceled Kangarlou’s page, saying in a message that her fundraiser had been removed “because the country you provided is part of an embargoed region.”
“The United States Treasury Department does not allow our platform to disburse funds directly to, or be routed by proxy to a state or person that is currently located in an embargoed region,” the letter read.
The website also told Kangarlou, the third-party money transfer partner, WePay, is not authorized to do business with Iran.
“As soon as they saw the name Iran, that this is for Iran earthquake, they freaked out,” Kangarlou said. “YouCaring did not care, nor did WePay,” she said. “What a shame.”
The US has imposed wide-ranging economic sanctions against Iran over the past decades.
Following the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers, including the US, some restrictions have been lifted, including the trading of Iranian oil and gas in the world market.
The report comes despite the US Treasury’s exemptions in its policy on disaster relief for Iranian individuals.
The efforts to block the donations come as the US offered condolences to the affected Iranian and Iraqi nationals.
“The United States expresses its sincere condolences to all of those affected by the earthquake in Iran and Iraq. We keep the families of those who were killed, and injured, in our thoughts as well as the communities that have suffered damage to homes and property,” said US State Department Spokesperson Heather Nauert on Monday.
Iranian aid institutions and relief workers have been working round the clock to attend to the injured and provide the survivors with their basic needs.
Along with officials, Iranian people have also mobilized in response to the natural disaster to help decrease the sufferings of their compatriots, with many donating blood and preparing aid packages.