15 Ways Sanctions Hurt Ordinary Iranians

Since the 1979 revolution, Iran has been placed under increasingly harsh rounds of sanctions by the US, the European Union, and the United Nations. The latest and strongest round of these sanctions were enacted during the early years of the Obama administration, and have made life increasingly difficult for average Iranians. Although a few sanctions were lifted this summer, the remaining sanctions continue to have a destructive effect on the ordinary lives of Iranians.

Sanctions have an especially tragic history in the Middle East. Their devastating humanitarian impact upon Iraqi society caused proponents of sanctions to begin advocating for a supposedly “smart” variety intended to “target” only governments; in this case, the Islamic Republic of Iran. Yet their increasingly widespread effects upon Iranian society today show this rhetoric to have been disingenuous, as ordinary Iranians bear the brunt of these sanctions. We are once again reminded of the inhumanity of collective punishment; of the fact that sanctions ultimately don’t “target,” they spread and ensnare instead.

These sanctions have significantly affected the lives of Iranians living in Iran as well as in the diaspora. Life essentials, such as the capacity for travel, education, the sending of remittances, and even access to medicine are increasingly limited for average Iranians.

Yet it can sometimes be hard to appreciate the impact of these sanctions in everyday terms. We’ve compiled a list of 15 photographs to help illustrate these impacts.

1. Sanctions have sent the Iranian economy into a series of shocks, causing massive inflation.

This has lead to a serious devaluation of the rial that has wreaked havoc on the purchasing power of ordinary Iranians.

2. Sanctions have created medicine shortages in Iran, leaving hundreds of thousands without access to vital medications.

Those medicines still available, meanwhile, are often prohibitively expensive due to the currency collapse. The result has been many easily preventable deaths.

Manouchehr Esmaili-Liousi is one of them. He didn’t have access to his hemophilia medicine and was reported as the first death directly caused by sanctions. He was fifteen. Many medicines for hemophilia and thalassemia, and other serious diseases have become extremely rare and highly expensive because of sanctions.

3. Due to sanctions, birth control pills – once available, accessible, and affordable – have become virtually non-existent.

Instead, cheaply made and sometimes dangerous substitutes have flooded the markets.

These include brands like Yaz and Yasmine, the same pills that are facing multiple major lawsuits in the US because their use has been linked to heart attacks, strokes, pulmonary embolism, deep vein thrombosis, and blood clots in women.

4. Iranian veterans of the Iran-Iraq war and survivors of chemical weapons attack increasingly don’t have access to vital treatments needed for their survival.

Iran is home to 100,000+ victims of chemical warfare, more than any other country in the world. While thousands of Iranians died instantly following the chemical weapons attacks, Iran’s tens of thousands of survivors face a wide range of long-term effects, including extremely high rates of respiratory ailments, skin and eye problems, fertility and reproductive disorders, and cancer.

5. Basic medicines such as Advil and Tylenol are increasingly out of reach and difficult to find in Iran.

So instead of taking gifts, in many cases Iranians abroad have resorted to filling their luggage with over-the-counter meds to take their families in Iran.

6. Because of sanctions, Tehran has been experiencing the worst pollution it’s ever had.

In 2010, US sanctions were implemented against Iranian imports of refined gasoline. This meant that the country had to immediately come up with a way to refine its own. The ad hoc replacement is of a dramatically lower quality, and as a result levels of air pollution (and deaths from respiratory diseases) have skyrocketed in cities across the country. In Tehran, there were less than 150 days of “healthy air” in 2011, down from 300 in 2009.

The pollution has gotten so bad that Tehran’s governor has even at times shut down the city for people’s safety and health. This dramatic decline follows years after which air quality in Iranian cities was getting better, due to a combination of increased government investment in public transit, cleaner fuels, and better industrial technology.

In major cities, smog has gotten so bad that people often resort to wearing face masks in public to protect themselves.

7. Some ideas in Iran are literally not worth the paper that they are printed on! 

Many can’t afford simple things, like the cost of paper. What is more, the cost of imported paper has risen sharply due to the devalued rial and led to what Iranian media have termed a “paper crisis.”

This has been linked to the bankruptcy of an estimated 100 independent publishers. The government continues to subsidize many publishers, but the widespread shutdown of independent publishers means that that the variety of ideas being published is increasingly restricted.

Never thought paper would be such a precious commodity, did you?

8. Want to be an Iranian AND have your money in a bank account? Some banks say no. Many bank accounts belonging to Iranians in the US have been closed due to sanctions.

Iranian students studying in the US have been especially targeted by banks over-enforcing sanctions. Often, banks will go far overboard in their enforcement for fear of being targeted by the United States government for non-compliance.

This is an especially sensitive issue because Iran’s banks have been completely cut off from the global banking system, forcing Iranians to rely on foreign banks if they travel or live abroad. Even a minor procedure like buying a plane ticket or shopping online is an arduous process, as Iranian credit cards and bank accounts are blocked from making international transactions.

9. Bank accounts belonging to Iranian-Canadians have also faced random closures due to sanctions.

In mid 2012, for example, TD Canada Trust began to close the accounts of numerous Iranian-Canadians and Iranian residents of Canada, apparently without allowing them an opportunity to contest their cases. These closures were widespread; in a single fact-finding meeting held by the Iranian Canadian Congress, about 100 Iranian-Canadians who had been affected showed up to voice their concerns. The episode even prompted the Canadian Civil Liberties Association to suggest that the closures may be violation of Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms. More recently, Canada’s Royal Bank seems to be following suit.

10. Iranians have been denied university entrance to European universities, especially in the fields of mathematics, science and technology (STEM), but also in social sciences and humanities.

Czech Technical University, for example, outright rejected a student based on her Iranian citizenship.

11. Even if Iranian students are admitted to American universities they may be barred from obtaining the financial services, such as student loans, necessary to afford it.

As Discover Student Loans, put it in a rejection letter: “Unfortunately, we cannot approve your application for the following reason(s): the country of residence you provided on your application is on the OFAC sanctioned country list.”

12. Despite changes to visa laws for Iranian students studying in the US, many students still face the problem of the single-entry visas, which means that they cannot visit home without having to go through the burdensome and costly process of re-applying for their student visa.

This is especially true for students in fields of science, engineering, and technology who cannot obtain multiple-entry visas.

13. Airbnb is reportedly denying service to Iranians seeking to sign up.

Photo credit: Ehsan Norouzi (@Ehsanism on Twitter)

14. Want to go to Iran?

You can’t if you want to book it through Trip Advisor, Kayak.com or many other US-based travel companies, who ban any bookings involving Iran.

15. Even if you manage to find a travel agent who will book a flight, some airlines have boycotted the country altogether.

KLM and Austrian airlines, among others, have stopped flying to Iran since the latest rounds of sanctions came into effects. Malaysia’s Air Asia, which previously offered cheap flights from Tehran to Kuala Lumpur and vice versa for hundreds of thousands of Iranian students and immigrants every year, has also canceled all flights to and from Iran since October 14, 2012 to remain compliant with sanctions. Recently, President Rouhani has suggested the possibility of having direct flights from New York to Tehran, but sanctions would have to be lifted before this can be a legal reality.

These are just a few examples of the effects of sanctions. The consequences of these sanctions have seeped into every aspect of life in Iran and have negatively impacted the social, cultural, and economic fabric of society, and are felt by Iranians in some very real ways. By no means an exhaustive list, this was merely an attempt to recognize and remember those affected by sanctions.

Read more about Sanctions:

On the Sanctions Against Iran: Reflections from a Child of the Iran-Iraq War

Seeing Through the Haze: the Politics of Reporting Sanctions and Smog in Tehran

U.S. Department of Treasury OFAC’s Complete List of Sanctions

Jadaliyya: The Effects of the Economic Sanctions Against Iran

Sanctions Are Destroying Iranian Society

Side Effects – The Humanitarian Consequences of Iran Sanctions

Al Jazeera’s The Stream: Life under Sanctions



  1. The sanctions are playing their purpose and that is the sign the the US and the West should harden their pressure on the Ayatullahs in order to succeed in mission of totally cleat Iran from nuclear materials and centrifuges.

  2. Absolutely scandalous. The outside world has NO RIGHT to make life miserable for ordinary Iranians simply for having the misfortune of living under a government the US dislikes.

    Lift the sanctions NOW, I say.

  3. Fortunately thanks God, when I travled to Iran from Los Angeles (summer 2013) I had dealt with one of the smaller travel agencies and I was unaware of the discrimination imposed by the big ticket sellers.
    If anyone says that Iran is one of the best nations in the world, it might even be me who is saying it.

    The sanctions are unjustified, evil, racist, wicked and corrupt.

    I have travled to other countries over the years,, Iran has the finest examples of good character traits to be found in its people.
    7 weeks in Iran has been a blessing for my mind, body and soul.
    I sum it up by saying
    I Love Iran.

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