Reporting from the frontlines in Syria

"Young people are very afraid to be taken by the army or by the rebels to fight."

Father Andrzej Halemba, head of the Middle East Projects Department for international Catholic Charity Aid to the Church in Need, just came back from a fact-finding mission in Syria. He gave the following account:

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.

Now the population of Syria dropped from 24.5 million to little over 17 million now. Nearly 6 million people are 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 from 2010 nearly 250 percent, but in the rebel areas its price rose 28 times! So if basic food is so expensive, what a miserable life is it? Over 57 percent of people are not able to find any job. They live from begging and from humanitarian help. Some 4.6 million people are in hard-to-reach areas.

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 was blocked by snipers. The streets are dirty, people are poorly dressed, the prices are very high and there is a lot of suspicion.

St. Elijah Parish in Qussair, Diocese of Homs, Syria.jpg.2.j

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.

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.”

Since the beginning of the war in Syria, which burst out in 2011, Aid to the Church in Need has supported emergency humanitarian projects and pastoral aid in the country with more than $14M in support. Last year alone, the organization helped almost 200,000 people with some form of support.

Remains of St. Elijah parish in Qussair, Diocese of Homs, Syria; ACN photo

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