25 April 2023, The Tablet

Cash pledges to Syria have not been fulfilled, says priest

Fr Tony O'Riordan said the Syria appeal is about 30 per cent funded, so two-thirds of pledges have not yet materialised.

Cash pledges to Syria have not been fulfilled, says priest

Aid supplies from Algeria arrive in Aleppo on 7 February, after a 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck the region.

The majority of the money pledged to UN networks in the aftermath of February’s earthquake in Syria hasn’t materialised, an Irish priest working in Aleppo has said.

Fr Tony O’Riordan SJ, director of Jesuit Refugee Service in Syria, told The Tablet that the appeal is about 30 per cent funded, so 66 per cent of the potential pledges have not yet materialised.

Noting that the humanitarian budget for Syria before the earthquake was also severely underfunded by international partners, he suggested that the Irish Minister for Overseas Development Aid, Colm Brophy, and Irish diplomats could play a role in pressuring countries in the EU and beyond to deliver pledged money.

“I think it would be of benefit for someone to shine the spotlight on this,” he said.

Describing the situation in Syria as “one of the great crises in the world at the moment”, he said the levels of poverty are “really shocking” in rural northwest Syria, following the 7.8 magnitude earthquake which struck on 6 February killing 7,259 people in Syria and 45,968 in Turkey.

“We complain about people arriving in boats in Europe and illegal flows of immigration into Europe, but it is a very small proportion of the number of people who are in dire need.

“If we can't at least get the pledged budgets to UN bodies to try and support a quality of life there, then we have limited grounds for complaining.”

In addition to “widespread poverty” Fr O’Riordan said there is a huge need for psychological intervention for people traumatised by 12 years of conflict compounded by a major natural disaster.

“Somebody said to me, ‘We felt our government had given up on us, we felt the international community had given up with us, but with the earthquake, we felt Mother Nature herself was giving up on us.’”

The former parish priest of Moyross in Limerick city said the situation in Syria had been allowed to continue to drift.

“In this drift, it is ordinary men, women and children who are suffering enormously and dying because of this inability to move beyond the conflict, and to find creative, peaceful solutions.”

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