The international Catholic pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) has pledged $2.8 in emergency aid Christians in Syria, who, for the most part, have so far benefited only to a limited extent from relief provided by the UN and other large, secular NGOs.
In many cases, Christians are reluctant to register themselves with aid agencies—and thus formally identify themselves as Christians—for fear of extremist Muslim reprisals who persecute Christians for their faith and their perceived support of the Syrian regime. In addition, relief efforts have been hampered across the board due to continued fighting and the dramatic rise of ISIS.
ACN will fund a number of projects to help sizeable Christian communities in Aleppo, Homs, Damascus and other cities and villages that have been hard hit by the war, reported Father Andrzej Halemba, the head of the organization’s Middle East section.
Since the outbreak of the civil war in Syria in 2011, hundreds of Christians have died and tens of thousands have been driven from their homes, their houses destroyed or their neighborhoods taken over by hostile forces. Countless families are without a reliable source of income; children and youth are barred from continuing their education: half of all the country’s schools are damaged, destroyed or used as shelter for fighters. Hundreds of thousands of Syrian Christians have become refugees in Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan.
Father Andrzej Halemba, citing the concerns of local Church leaders, said: “Aleppo’s Christians are afraid that what happened in Mosul will also happen to them. This is a new and, unfortunately, justified fear of religious cleansing. The Islamic State openly shows its murderous intentions against anyone who does not bend to its brand of extremism.”
Father Halemba charged that the international community—aside from confronting the threat of ISIS—has drifted into a form of neglect of the Syrian crisis. Official estimates hold that 12.2 million people are affected by the war in Syria. The number of Internally Displaced Persons stands at 7.8 million, while 4.8 million Syrians are living in barely accessible parts of the country or in active war zones. Some 5.6 million children are directly affected by the war—with the number of students no longer able to attend school standing at 3 million.
ACN’s emergency projects include:
– Providing 4500 vulnerable families in various cities as well as the countryside with funds to purchase oil, gas electricity and to pay their rent for four months;
– Ensuring a supply of medical supplies for communities in Aleppo and Hassake for six months;
– Paying for repairs and fuel costs at half a dozen schools in Aleppo and Damascus;
– Supporting local Churches in the repair of badly damaged or destroyed infrastructure—churches, catechetical centers, diocesan offices, etc.