Washington, DC – When Delfarib Fanaie got the news that their organization, Moms Against Poverty (MAP) received a US license to work in Iran, she couldn’t believe it. “This has been a personal dream for me since my husband and I adopted our first child in year 2000. I fulfilled a dream and a promise that I made to all the girls and boys I left in Iran. I am not going to stop until I help them,” said Fanaie.
Current US Sanctions do not permit American humanitarian organizations to work in Iran. But through a special licensing procedure, the US Government may grant exceptions on a case by case basis to allow organizations to do this important work.
Moms Against Poverty is an organization of Iranian-American mothers who work on humanitarian projects around the world. They work in Cambodia to support a safe house for children and a clinic that provides care to families living in garbage dump sites. In Afghanistan, they implement training programs for girls. In the US, they are working to provide food for children and their families during the Christmas holiday. They are looking to add a region in Africa to their program in 2011 as well. But until now, they have not been able to work in Iran.
MAP first applied for a US license to work in Iran in November 2009. “They told us to be patient, and we were,” said Fanaie. At the end of August 2010, MAP received word from the US State Department that they had passed all the required background checks. The next step was to contact the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) to complete the application. MAP proceeded to call OFAC on daily basis and everyday they heard their file was pending. On the morning of November 1st, one year after they began the process, MAP received the good news: they had finally been approved for a license.
Critics of the OFAC permitting process say that the requirements are so arduous that few humanitarian organizations have the time or resources to complete it. As a result, few American humanitarian organizations are able to work in Iran. Delfarib recalls how so many lawyers and officials told her that MAP would not be able to get an OFAC license. “We were told for organizations like ours that to get an OFAC permit is close to impossible. They told us we were crazy for applying.”
Legislation was introduced in Congress last year, the Stand With the Iranian People Act (SWIPA), which would allow organizations to work directly with the Iranian people for specific humanitarian relief and human rights purposes without going through the licensing procedure. A group of humanitarian relief organizations signed on to a letter organized by the National Iranian American Council to US Government officials calling for a fix to the licensing requirements. But those calls were not heeded and, because SWIPA has not been adopted, organizations like MAP must continue to work through the licensing procedure.
Now that they received their license, MAP is eager to begin their work in Iran. “The OFAC permit is very specific about what kind of work we can do and granted us to work directly in the orphanages in Iran. These places are in such poor condition, without proper infrastructure, heating in the winter, and some have no showers. We will be working hands-on to improve the living situation for these children.” In addition to improving conditions in the orphanages, they will also implement educational workshops at Azadi School for Girls, so that girls will have the ability to support their families and avoid falling into abusive families.
Delfarib is hopeful that their work will make a difference and that, in the future, more American organizations will be able to work in Iran. “We encourage other organizations to have faith, be transparent, believe in your work, be committed, and most importantly have lots of love.”