MORE HELP is urgently needed to encourage Christians to stay in Syria. That is the urgent message from an archbishop who has said that security problems, job instability and poor living conditions have left people “feeling like strangers in their own country.”
Speaking with us during Holy Week, Syriac Orthodox Archbishop Selwanos Petros Al-Nemeh of Homs and Hama said that about 50 percent of Christians had left Syria since the outbreak of the conflict in 2011. He said: “Christians would love to stay and be bound to their country because this is their land… What is preventing them from staying is the instability in their work, the insecurity and vulnerability that they are facing, economic difficulties and dreadful living conditions.”
The archbishop stressed how people “were bewildered by the immensity of the damage in the city [of Homs]” and the struggle to get help. Rejecting the efforts of groups that are “facilitating the Christian migration,” he added: “Some Christian families felt as if they were strangers in their own country… as they did not have even a place to stay.”
The archbishop described “two types of migration” in Syria: “The first one are people internally displaced moving the more secure areas of Syria—they are waiting to come back to their former homes as soon as possible.” The second type is emigration, Christians moving to either to Lebanon or to Europe. “Those who went to Lebanon await for some more stability to come back to Syria and they are willing to return whereas, I think, for those who left for Europe, it will be difficult to return,” the archbishop said.
The prelate expressed gratitude for organizations like ours that are providing emergency help, including support to rebuild homes; he reported that 2,000 houses in Homs had now been repaired. He said: “We need a lot of support to rebuild and allow people to return. We hope that organizations such as Aid to the Church in Need will continue to support the re-construction effort, so that we can reach out to more Christian families in need.”
Describing the Christian community remaining in Homs, Archbishop Selwanos said: “We celebrate the Holy Masses in our churches again and our bishops have come back to the city as well.” Stressing the conflict’s impact on Homs, he said: “Christianity is rich with numerous martyrs who died because of their faith… [A]round 700 – 800 Christian martyrs sacrificed their life in the old town of Homs.
Archbishop Selwanos proclaimed: “We will live the resurrection. We hope for peace and happiness, because God gives us the triumph over death. We pray our God to give peace to the whole world, that we can live peacefully and happily together.”
Last year, Aid to the Church in need carried out more than 140 projects in Syria, the bulk of them focused on providing emergency aid. We spent a total of some $8M.
—Murcadha O Flaherty