Fresh aid for Syrians as winter bites deep
A series of new emergency aid packages have been rushed through by leading Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) as hunger and sub-zero temperatures threaten the lives of people across Syria and neighboring countries.
Increasingly alarmed by the deepening crisis engulfing the region, ACN has agreed to provide funding for food, heating, shelter and medicine for some of the worst-affected regions in Syria, as well as those seeking sanctuary over the border.
Each receiving $122,400 are destitute communities in Homs, Marmarita and Sadad, and a further $68,000 is bound for Nebek.
Last month, ACN announced a $54,400 aid package for 215 destitute Christian families taking shelter in Damascus in a plan organized by Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarch Gregorios III of Antioch.
The aid, which comes on top of ACN aid packages of over $4 million dating back almost to the start of the Syrian crisis, comes amid reports that the region is on course to suffer its worst winter for 100 years.
Leading clergy, who are spearheading the ACN relief work, have highlighted the crisis for destitute children, many of whom have been orphaned by the war.
The charity’s decision to continue prioritizing aid for Syria comes amid worsening reports of violence against Christians in what is fast becoming one of the worst phases of sustained persecution of the new millennium.
ACN’s latest project grants include aid for Aleppo, one of the most dangerous urban areas, especially for Christians, who have been under threat from Al Qaeda militants in control of much of the region.
Latest reports say up to 600,000 Syrian Christians, a third of the total, are either displaced within the country or living as refugees in neighboring countries.
Highlighting the massive exodus of Christians from Syria, ACN Middle East projects coordinator Fr. Andrzej Halemba said, “It is now a case of to be or not to be for future of Christians in Syria.”
Fr. Halemba, who has carried out repeated trips to the region to oversee aid plans, said, “We are helping to do what we can to keep hope alive.”
He stressed the crisis in Sadad, one of those communities receiving a second round of aid, where a massacre of Christians in October prompted a mass exodus. Many have since returned.
He said, “The number of Christians killed because they are targeted for their faith is growing. Sadad is a very clear case. They were slaughtered like animals.”
Outside Syria, ACN aid includes a grant of $20,400 for Iraqi Christians who have fled to Turkey. Many had been taking refuge in Syria.
The charity has provided ongoing medical help for refugees arriving in Lebanon cared for by the Good Shepherd Sisters at their St. Antony’s Clinic in a Beirut suburb.
Fr. Halemba said, “Sisters are helping families coming to them. They had to flee the bombing.”
Elsewhere in Lebanon, Melkite Greek Catholic Archbishop Issam John Darwish is providing food, heating and clothing for more than 540 refugee families in his diocese, the Archeparchy of Zahleh e Furzol.
According to Archbishop Darwish, many of the refugees are scared of registering at the camps, fearing their details will be passed to extremists.
The prelate said, “It is a remarkable fact that the Christians who have fled from Syria are so gripped with fear and horror that they will not register.”
Among those being helped by the Melkite diocese is Basman Kassouha who, like many other Christians, was forced to leave his home when militant soldiers attacked it.
He said, “They stormed my house, giving me one hour to evacuate or else they will kill me.”
Mr. Kassouha has tried to start a new life in Lebanon but urgently needed help to feed his family.
He said, “I live here in two rooms in Barbara Quarter. I’m trying my best to find work to support my family. I’m heartbroken. I’ve lost everything.”
Another Christian refugee who fled with his family, 50-year-old Fadi Gearous Kassouha, also left everything when he fled Syria.
He said, “My house is burned down. All my life savings have gone and I’m left with nothing. I have six children.”
“May God forgive them for they don’t know what they are doing.”
Archbishop Darwish went on to thank the benefactors of Aid to the Church in Need for their generous support.He said, “I would like very much to extend my gratitude for all your support and help in the Syrian crisis.”
With pictures of a homeless child in Damascus and a displaced Syrian mother and child (© ACN)