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Western governments 'should not encourage Syrians to flee'
29 January 2014 12:45 by James Macintyre

One of the most senior Catholic leaders in Syria has said Western governments should not be encouraging those suffering in the region to leave, as the British Government announced it would take in a small number of Syrian refugees.

Patriarch Gregorios III of Antioch told the Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) that instead, the West should be providing more aid. "It is better to help the [destitute] people within the country or the region and not invite them to go outside,” he said.

The Damascus-based Melkite Greek Patriarch recognised that Syrians must make their own decisions because “the suffering is so great,” but he added that “the real answer is to provide more help – more relief – on the spot and not outside, which will encourage them to leave”.

He said aid programmes in more should be done to step up aid programmes in Jordan, Turkey and other countries neighbouring Syria.

The Patriarch echoed concerns among other Middle Eastern church leaders of an exodus of Christians from the region which could extinguish the centuries-old Christian presence there. "The danger is that if they leave the region of the Middle East, they will never go back. This applies to other groups as well as the Christians," he said.

The Patriarch’s comments came on the same day – Tuesday -- that Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister, announced that the UK would be providing refuge for some of “the most vulnerable” Syrian refugees.

On 19 January, the bishop who oversees the Church’s work with migrants, Patrick Lynch, urged Britain, along with other EU countries, “to find a way in which countries within the EU can receive at least some of the refugees”.

Above: A boy carries wood in the al-Yamdiyeh refugee camp near the Syrian-Turkish border in Latakia province. Photo: CNS/Reuters