Poor living conditions, security problems and economic insecurity, have left Syrians “feeling like strangers in their own country”, Syriac Orthodox Archbishop Selwanos Petros Al-Nemeh of Homs said this week.
Speaking to Catholic charity Aid To The Church In Need, the archbishop said he believed Christians wanted to remain in the war-torn nation but were “bewildered by the immensity of the damage”. He said: “Some Christian families felt as if they were strangers within their own country…as they did not have even a place to stay.”
Since war broke out in Syria in 2011, more than half of the Christian population has left the country, he said. According to the UN Refugee Agency over 5.5m Syrians have so far fled their homes seeking refuge in neighbouring countries, and a further 6m people remain displaced within Syria itself.
The Church’s development agency Cafod announced this week it would be launching a two-year project with Islamic Relief and others to support Syrian refugees in Lebanon, Iraq and Jordan.
In a statement released today by Cafod, Alexis Adam de Matharel, who coordinates the project, explained that an “influx” of refugees had caused “huge strain” on host countries, with “tensions boiling over”. The aim of the project, which is funded predominantly by the EU, is to empower young people and ease tensions among refugees and their neighbours, Cafod explained.
“A huge amount is being done to tackle the immediate physical needs of refugees,” added Mr de Matharel, “but the social and emotional needs are often overlooked.”
The project will bring Muslim and Christian young people together to improve social cohesion and equip them with job skills.
In Lebanon, where Cafod is focusing its work with young people, refugees now make up a quarter of the total population. A recent report by UNHCR found that three quarters of the 1.5 million Syrian refugees are living below the poverty line.
PICTURE: Destruction in the city of Homs, Syria ©ACN