Crypto Donations Provide Fast Relief for Earthquake Victims in Turkey and Syria

An aid worker surveys earthquake damage

With a death toll now surpassing 47,000, the devastating earthquake on February 6 in Turkey and Syria have left many worldwide feeling powerless to help. Additionally, political tensions are complicating distribution logistics, making it a struggle for victims to receive aid in both countries. When humanitarian crises of this magnitude arise, people want to donate to relief efforts but are often unsure of where to turn. Their biggest concern: How do I know that funds will get to those who truly need them as quickly as possible?

In times like these, cryptocurrency has played a significant role in helping people fast. For instance, crypto brought millions in aid to Ukraine. By March 28, 2022 — a little more than a month after the war began — crypto users had already donated over $56 million worth of cryptocurrency to addresses the Ukrainian government had provided, along with donations to charitable organizations accepting digital currency. Crypto has the same potential to provide fast relief for victims in  the Turkey and Syria earthquake.

To date, we estimate roughly $5.9 million in cryptocurrency donations, demonstrating crypto’s utility as a quick way to transfer funds across borders. Groups receiving funds include the Turkish Ministry of Interior Earthquake Humanitarian Aid Campaign, Turkish Red Crescent, Save the Children, Project Hope, and others. Additionally, crypto businesses Binance, Tether, Bitfinex, OKX, and KuCoin have pledged over $9 million in support of earthquake victims. As part of its effort, Binance announced it would airdrop $100 USD in BNB to users living in Turkey affected by the earthquakes.

As for other industry donations, several organizations have pledged support for humanitarian efforts on the ground. Chobani’s CEO, a Turkish native, has pledged $1 million to Turkish Philanthropy Funds, and vows to match up to an additional $1 million. The IKEA Foundation pledged €10 million to Doctors Without Borders. Amazon sent $500,000 in cash to groups like UNICEF and Save the Children. World governments are stepping up as well. USAID pledged $85 million and Canada is sending C$10 million ($7.4 million USD), with an agreement to match an additional C$10m in donations. 

How to make crypto donations successful and impactful

When emergencies of this magnitude arise, there’s always a risk of unwittingly sending cryptocurrency to bad actors. For this reason, it’s critical to perform due diligence before making donations. This includes avoiding OFAC-sanctioned entities and also scammers promoting crypto addresses tied to fraudulent donation efforts. In the past, we’ve seen terror financing operations use the guise of charity to mask their illicit intent. So far, we’ve identified 18 suspected scam donation addresses tied to the earthquake crisis, but they’ve only received $502 in crypto funds to date.

To avoid donating to scammers, the FTC recommends the following:

  • Research the charity or person requesting money. Perform an online search including the group’s or individual’s name, including words like “review,” “complaint,” or “scam.” 
  • Search online for the crypto wallet address to confirm that you’re sending money to the real address.

Sanctions on Syria have also presented challenges in getting aid where it’s needed most. However, OFAC took quick action, issuing Syria General License 23 (GL 23) on February 9, authorizing all transactions related to earthquake relief for 180 days that would have otherwise been prohibited under the existing Syrian Sanctions Regulations. While this action gives companies, financial institutions, and crypto exchanges more opportunity to send aid to Syria without the fear of violating sanctions, everyone must avoid making donations to known sanctioned entities.

Yesterday, OFAC released Guidance on Authorized Transactions Related to Earthquake Relief Efforts in Syria in response to questions about how to provide assistance to Syrian earthquake victims while complying with sanctions. OFAC confirmed that GL 23 authorizes digital payments. “For authorized activity under GL 23, such as sending funds to non-sanctioned Syrian individuals for earthquake relief, U.S. persons are not required to send funds through any specific mechanism (such as through a bank).”

Crypto donations offer unique benefits in times of crisis

One of cryptocurrency’s advantages is that it provides opportunities to lend fast support, whereas traditional finance takes longer to mobilize. Especially with a sanctioned country like Syria, setting up the proper channels for distribution of fiat currency can delay timely and critical aid. Additionally, where a bank might take several business days to process a transaction sent around the world (and weeks to set up the proper accounts), cryptocurrency transfers can happen in minutes. 

Another distinct advantage of using crypto for donations is that users won’t incur the large fees that banks charge for cross-border payments. Donating funds in crypto also helps nonprofits diversify their revenue streams, making them less reliant on traditional means of fundraising.