Aleppo is facing a ‘slow death’

0908Syria_food distributed to youthBy John Newton and Oliver Maksan
A CATHOLIC charity is sending out nearly £300,000 in emergency aid to Syria to help persecuted Christians and other suffering communities amid stark warnings about the survival of the Church in key regions of the Middle East.
Sister Annie Demerjian of the Sisters of Jesus and Mary told charity Aid to the Church in Need: “If we want the Christians to remain in the Middle East, then we must help them with what they need in order to survive.”
In response to urgent appeals from those working in Syria, ACN has provided £290,000 (EURO €360,000) in urgent help.
Among the recipients of the latest aid is a centre in Aleppo where Sister Annie and her team are providing the basic essentials to poor families remaining in the city.
She said: “Aleppo is facing the risk of dying a slow death.”
Before it was engulfed in conflict in July 2012, Aleppo was the most populous city in the country with more than two million inhabitants.
Today the northern metropolis is thought to have shrunk to around half a million people.
Describing how Aleppo is suffering badly from the ongoing fighting and the collapse of its infrastructure, Sister Annie told ACN that the water and electricity supplies are insufficient for people’s needs and that most people have “forgotten what it is like to eat meat or fresh fruit”.
According to the religious Sister, most of the houses in the area have been destroyed, forcing many survivors to flee.
“Where are they going to find refuge? How are they going to repair their houses?”
She added that infestations of rats, snakes and other vermin have made matters worse.
ACN is also supporting the Church’s humanitarian work in Homs, and its surrounding towns and villages, where more than 750,000 people have been forced to abandon their homes.
Jesuit priest Fr Ziad Hilal said: “In Homs the number of people who are dependent on support for such things as foodstuffs and articles of hygiene is growing, since many people are unemployed now and have no source of income.”
The new ACN help will mean that more than 15,000 displaced persons will be provided with washing powder, soap and towels – as well as the necessities for the coming winter, such as blankets and warm clothing.
Fr Ziad told ACN that the Church is providing support to all those in need, regardless of religion, gender or political affiliation.
ACN is also supporting St Cyril Church in Damascus to provide catechesis for children and young people there.
Parish priest Fr Joseph Lajin said: “The catechetical centre in our parish is more than simply a religious centre. It is also almost the only consolation for some 500 children.”
He added: “It is not easy – when a generation has heard about and seen nothing else but the atrocities of ISIS – to educate them in a spirit of peace and forgiveness, of acceptance of the other and love of one’s enemy.”
According to UN statistics, more than 150,000 people have been killed during the conflict in Syria – and more than 10 million people within the country are dependent on humanitarian aid.
There are more than six million internal refugees in the country, and in excess of two million Syrians have fled to neighbouring countries, such as Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey.
Since the war began in March 2011, ACN has provided £2.8 million (EURO €3.5 million) aid for projects in Syria and refugees in neighbouring countries.