More Syria help urgently needed ACN eye-witness account shows how crisis has deepened

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By Oliver Maksan and Clare Creegan
A CALL to redouble efforts to help Syrian refugees ahead of the winter has been made by the Middle East projects coordinator of a leading Catholic charity during a visit to the country.
Father Andrzej Halemba, head of the Middle East projects section of Aid to the Church in Need, highlighted the ongoing need for the Catholic charity’s emergency and pastoral work in Syria, saying that it had helped people to survive.
Speaking from Syria, Fr Halemba said: “My impression, after several visits since the beginning of this year, is one of increasing concern about the ever greater instability in Syria.
“The military success of [Daesh (ISIS)] causes fear and anxiety especially among the Christians.
“The future of the city of Aleppo, where many Christians still live, is uncertain.”
ACN has carried out 140 emergency and pastoral projects – £5 million (€8 million) – in Syria since the conflict began four years ago.
One such project provides rent subsidies for nearly 300 suffering families and another enables 140 students to continue to attend university.
Fr Halemba said ACN’s project partners in the region are working for the good of the people “in an ever more efficient and coordinated way”.
He said: “When I was in the Christian town of Marmarita near the Lebanese border, the gratitude for the aid that our benefactors have made possible was overwhelming.
“The people said that our benefactors had made it possible for them to survive.
“One boy, when we met, only said one word in Arabic: shukran; thank you. Everyone was very moved by that.
“An old woman pleaded with me, with tears in her eyes, to go on helping the Christians in Syria so that they could stay.”
Marmarita is now home to many internally-displaced refugees, both Christian and Muslim.
Although relatively safe from bombing, the cost of living in the town has risen and the displaced people living there do not have any work.
Fr Halemba is particularly concerned about the effect the coming winter will have on displaced families.
He said that gas and fuel were in very short supply and were very expensive.
Fr Halemba added: “Last year some 50 people died from the cold.
“We will therefore need to pay particular attention to aid for the winter.”
At the start of the war in spring 2011, Syria had 1.25 million Christians but today the European Union estimates that up to 700,000 Christians have fled abroad to escape the conflict.
Neville Kyrke-Smith, Aid to the Church in Need (UK) National Director, echoed Fr Halemba’s comments that more help is needed to help those that have remained behind in Syria.
Highlighting Middle East emergency and pastoral projects being paid out by the UK section of ACN, he said: “Having been to refugee camps in Iraq and in Lebanon close to the border with Syria, I know how important the help of ACN is for people who are stranded and who are totally dependent on the help of others.
“It is vital to sustain that help and support.
“There are many displaced and refugees who want to go back. Christians are important bridge-builders in the Middle East and we want to help them continue to play their important role in the birthplace of Christianity.”


Editor’s Notes
Directly under the Holy See, Aid to the Church in Need supports the faithful wherever they are persecuted, oppressed or in pastoral need. ACN is a Catholic charity – helping to bring Christ to the world through prayer, information and action.
Founded in 1947 by Fr Werenfried van Straaten, whom St John Paul II named “An outstanding Apostle of Charity”, the organisation is now at work in more than 140 countries throughout the world.
The charity undertakes thousands of projects every year including providing transport for clergy and lay Church workers, construction of church buildings, funding for priests and nuns and help to train seminarians. Since the initiative’s launch in 1979, Aid to the Church in Need’s Child’s Bible – God Speaks to his Children has been translated into 176 languages and more than 51 million copies have been distributed all over the world.
Aid to the Church in Need UK is a registered charity in England and Wales (1097984) and Scotland (SC040748). ACN’s UK office is in Sutton, Surrey and there is a Scottish office in Motherwell, near Glasgow.

For more information, contact John Pontifex, ACN UK Head of Press & Information, 020 8661 5161 or Clare Creegan, Digital Media and Press Officer on 020 8661 5175. Please contact us for a copy of Patriarch Gregorios III’s letter to young people.