Edited by board administrator 6/10/2016, 4:39 pm
Syria: “We are never safe” – Reporting from the front lines in Syria
• Following his visit to Syria, the head of the Middle East section of Aid to the Church in Need talks about the current situation in the war-torn country
(Fr. Andrzej Halemba, head of the Middle East department of Aid to the Church in Need © Aid to the Church in Need)
Q) How does the situation look like in Syria right now?
A) Right now everybody is holding their breath because the situation looks promising, but on the other hand we are facing a humanitarian crisis of enormous scale. ISIS, Al Nusra and other Al-Qaida want to destabilize the situation to show that there will be no peace in Syria without their engagement. Syria has changed completely in only 5 years. From a rich country, which was enjoying peace, and where business was going very well, it has turned into a place of destruction.
Q) How did the war change the life of Syrians?
A) The population of Syria dropped from 24.5 million before the war to a little over 17 million now. Nearly 6 million people are living outside the country. There are over 4.8 million Syrian refugees in the neighbouring countries and 13.5 million people in need of humanitarian help inside Syria. Many areas are extremely difficult to reach. Food is very expensive. For example, in the area controlled by the government the price of rice rose has increased nearly 250% since 2010. Over 57% of people are not able to find a job. They live from begging and from humanitarian help. Another 4.6 million people are in hard-to-reach areas. Everybody is afraid of the possible division of the country and of the continuation. The situation is extremely complex, but certainly for the first time in several months there is a small flame of hope.
Q) Which experiences during your trip to Syria saddened you the most?
A) First of all, the ruins that you can see around Damascus. It is a lovely city and still the people refuse to be in despair there. Despite the difficult situation they try to live a “normal life”. But the landscape of the surroundings of the city is terrible. When we went to Homs we had to use side roads because the motorway were blocked by snipers. The streets are dirty, people are poorly dressed, the prices are very high and there is a lot of suspicion. A growing number of checkpoints has definitely impacted on the people’s mentality: Due to the constant pressure of security checks everybody is extremely tired, especially the police.
In Homs we’ve been passing through a place where few days before there had been an attack by Al Nusra. They drove the car into the city centre and at the checkpoint they triggered a bomb, killing themselves and six soldiers. With this terror campaign people are very deeply traumatized. “We are never safe” they say. And that makes them really tired.
The families are in a dramatic situation as they can’t sustain themselves. They have no work or are being very much underpaid. And the displaced people who had to leave their homes – 6.5 million of them to be more precise – need to rent rooms, but the prices of rentals are enormously high. Without having the income this becomes a big challenge for them.
Last but not least the question of the young people who are very afraid to be taken by the army or by the rebels to fight. They are the most vulnerable, that is why they run away. That is also why amongst the refugees in Europe there are so many young people.
Q) Were there any situations at all that you could describe as beautiful ones?
A) Very often, without words, the local people burst into tears, because nobody is helping them. That’s very emotional for us. They are so grateful. But this help has not only a material aspect. It gives them so much more: strength through the gesture of solidarity which they experience. People told me: “Father, it is so important for us that we don’t feel forgotten.”
We should remember that ACN is one of the biggest donors assisting with emergency help in Syria, especially amongst the Christians. The help comes in the form of food baskets, electricity, gas, medicines, scholarships and pastoral support.
I always ask people in Syria to pray for our benefactors and for their families. They reply, “we pray daily for them”. Very often they carry their rosaries, pray together in churches and also individually. This is in fact an exchange of love through a bridge of prayers.
Q) Are there any other stories that you would like to share?
A) There is a teacher from Damascus. She went twice abroad: once to USA and to Europe and now says: “I cannot live over there. I have to come back to Syria. I have to help children in the schools. I want to grow old here and I want to die here”. This is a person who really loves her country despite the difficulties and despite the temptation of having an easy life.
I remember also two young people from the Valley of Christians. They are extremely well educated and both speak English very well. With their qualifications they could easily find work in the West. Furthermore their parents live in USA and call them daily to come. But they refuse to go. They say: “We have to help others. There are so many who depend on us.” Indeed, they are helping a few hundred families. They work as volunteers and do amazing work
Since the beginning of the war in Syria in 2011, Aid to the Church in Need has supported emergency and pastoral aid projects in the country with an amount of over $(US)14 million. Last year alone, the organization helped almost 200,000 people with some form of support.
(During the ongoing civil war in Syria many Churches and other buildings have been destroyed in the fighting. Pictured here is the church in Quseir, Homs. The surrounding catechism centre, parish hall, sisters' house were also ransacked and burned © Aid to the Church in Need)
Directly under the Holy See, Aid to the Church in Need supports the faithful wherever they are persecuted, oppressed or in pastoral need. ACN is a Catholic charity – helping to bring Christ to the world through prayer, information and action.
The charity undertakes thousands of projects every year including providing transport for clergy and lay Church workers, construction of church buildings, funding for priests and nuns and help to train seminarians. Since the initiative’s launch in 1979, Aid to the Church in Need’s Child’s Bible – God Speaks to his Children has been translated into 162 languages and 48 million copies have been distributed all over the world.
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