A) Political background:
After more than 33 months of unrest, the conflict between the regime and the opposition in Syria has escalated to a full-scale civil war. Army defectors along with Islamic militants formed armed groups that wage a guerrilla war on government forces, but it seems that the sectarian conflict between the Alawite and the Sunnite was pulling fighters from across the Middle East and North Africa into the fray as well.
By December 2013, more than 130,000 people-mostly civilians-were thought to have died and tens of thousands more had been arrested. More than two million Syrian refugees had registered in neighboring countries, with tens of thousands not registered. In addition, about 5.5 million Syrians needed aid inside the country, with more than two million displaced domestically, according to the United Nations.
On the ground it seems that the control of towns and cities seesawed between rebel forces that were poorly organized but increasingly well-armed and confident, and a government that was too weak to stamp out the rebellion, though strong enough to prevent it from holding large chunks of territory. In the summer of 2012, the government withdrew to strong points, increasingly relying on air power and artillery to smash areas that rebels had seized.
They filled the regime forces with thousands of militia irregulars trained at least in part by Hezbollah and Iranian advisers in counter-insurgency operations-unlike the rebel force, which has received only sporadic supplies of relatively low-caliber weaponry from its reluctant Western and Arab allies. The Syrian army can count on steady supplies of arms and ammunition from Iran and Russia; the Syrian forces succeeded in recapturing many villages and towns in different parts of the country.
At present, the use of chemical weapons in the rural regions of Ghouta near Damascus and the death of more than 1400 civilians is considered a turning point in the conflict. The U.S. government accused President Bashar al-Assad’s forces of killing the civilians in a poison-gas attack in the Damascus suburbs on 21 August. But later on, the US and Russia reached an agreement on 14 September 2013 to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal and the Syrian regime agreed immediately. The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) started to implement the agreement. The deal placed indefinitely on hold the prospect of US-led strikes on Syria as punishment for a deadly chemical weapons attack.
Finally, it seems that the major powers agreed to hold the Geneva II Middle East peace conference (or Geneva II) that would take place in Geneva in late 2013 with the aim of stopping the Syrian civil war and organizing a transition period and post-war reconstruction.
B) Economic and Humanitarian Difficulties
Since the outbreak of the Syrian civil war, the Syrian economy has been hit by massive economic sanctions restricting trade with the Arab League, Australia, Canada, and the European Union, as well as other European countries in addition to Japan, Turkey, and the United States. These sanctions and the instability associated with the civil war have reversed previous growth in the Syrian economy to a state of decline for the years 2011 and 2012. In 2012, the GDP growth was negative and estimated at (- 14%), and the inflation rate was around 30%.
The government’s inability to provide basic services is likely to fuel frustration and anger among all Syrians. Grappling with severe fuel shortages and winter temperatures that drop below freezing, Syrians are spending hours in line every day for gasoline or a few loaves of bread at soaring prices, as President Bashar Assad’s regime faces mounting difficulties in providing basic services to its people. The regime’s challenges are to keep the economy moving — and its people fed and warm. An electricity blackout, which affected upscale areas in the heart of Damascus where rationing is normally less severe, was the latest in a series of infrastructural failures that the regime has blamed on the rebels. Late last year, the Internet and most telephone lines were cut for days as the regime and rebels traded blame. And over the year, the country’s oil and gas pipelines, power stations and water pipes have all been attacked. The winter months have brought misery and suffering to new levels, as the scarcity of food and fuel have meant people lining up for hours in cold weather for the most basic essentials, and others freezing inside their homes. In the countryside, people have resorted to chopping down trees and burning furniture to keep warm.
The government has fixed gasoline prices at about 75 cents per liter, but shortages mean residents must wait up to six hours in line to fill up. Cooking gas, too, has become a precious commodity, and people must wait more than two weeks to replace an empty bottle at the government rate of about $7- or pay as much as four times that on the black market.
Despite the ravaged economy, most analysts say the regime can survive for at least another year at current levels of spending, and perhaps even longer.
U.S. and European Union bans on oil imports, which went into effect last year, are estimated to be costing Syria about $400 million a month.
The $17 billion in foreign currency reserves that the government had accumulated from brief oil boom in the 1990s were maintained until last year. The government has not said what currency reserves it has left, but the London-based Economist Intelligence Unit estimates it to be a little more than $4.5 billion. The U.S. dollar today costs about 200 pounds at the black market compared with 47 pounds to the dollar when the crisis began. The government price is about 128 pounds.
The situation in government-controlled areas is much better than in territories held by rebels.
C) The Situation of Christians in Syria
Although Syria has a Sunni Muslim majority, it is one of the most religiously and ethnically diverse countries in the Middle East, home to Christians, Druze, and Shiite-offshoot Alawites and Ismailis. But the country’s conflict, now in its third year, is threatening that tapestry.
While the primary front in the war has put Sunni against Shiite, Christians are increasingly caught in the line of fire. The perception that they support the government has long made them a target of rebel groups. Now, Christians, say radical Islamist groups such as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), an affiliate of al-Qaeda, are determined to drive them from their homes.
Church officials and rights groups say that many Christians have tried to remain neutral in Syria’s escalating conflict. But fighting continues to put pressure on the minority Christian population, leading to fears that more Syrians will join the many Christians who have already left the Middle East. Many Christians in the region fear Syria will become another Iraq, where poor security after the U.S. invasion in 2003 has allowed militant Islamic groups to target Christians for intimidation, killings and kidnappings that helped drive hundreds of thousands of Christians out of the country.
Concerns mounted among Christians in Syria over the kidnapping of the two Bishops; Boulos Yazigi of the Greek Orthodox Church and Yuhanna Ibrahim of the Syrian Orthodox Church who were seized on 22 April while on a mission to free two priests held hostage by rebels near Aleppo,
A report recently published by international Christian human rights organization “Open Doors” says that at present, Syria is one of the most dangerous countries in the world for Christians. The report says that many Christians in Syria have become victims of violence and that many Christian churches and monasteries in the country have been ruined.
Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarch Gregorios III Laham told the BBC that more than 450,000 Christians out of a total population of 1.75 million had been displaced or left the country.
D) Humanitarian crisis
The United Nations has launched the biggest aid appeal in its history, calling for more than £4billion to be dedicated to the crisis in Syria in an attempt to avert what it says is the greatest humanitarian catastrophe of modern times.
With no end to Syria’s conflict in sight, the UN estimates that three quarters of the population — millions of whom have been forced to leave their homes or flee the country because of the fighting — will need aid in 2014. The UN said the impact had “exceeded all previous benchmarks”.
In the past two and half years of conflict, 2.4 million Syrians — more than a tenth of the population — have fled to the country’s five regional neighbors, Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt. As the war intensifies, these countries are seeing up to 8,000 refugees crossing the borders every day.
The latest estimates published by the UNHCR, show that 7.8 million people in Syria are needy, 5.4 million people internally displaced and an additional 2.4 million are seeking refuge in neighboring countries from a conflict that has reportedly killed over 130,000 people over the past two-and-a-half years.
Some areas face food shortages, and starvation has become a major concern. Even areas like Damascus that have been spared large-scale violence lack sufficient quantities of gasoline, heating oil and cooking gas.
Harsh winter weather had made matters worse. People lack winter clothes, blankets and fuel, with women and children particularly at risk.
In the large city of Aleppo, a battle zone for the past several months, the price of bread has climbed in some places more than 15-fold to 250 Syrian pounds ($3.50) a kilo, while it is estimated that half of public hospitals have been damaged by the conflict.
II. Pontifical Mission’s Response
The Syrian displaced families in general and the Christians in particular are facing serious challenge to provide the basic necessities for their children. The need is more urgent when it comes to families who found refuge within their confessional communities and remained unknown and unregistered for international organizations whose main activities are concentrated at the large refugee camps.
In March 2012, CNEWA/Pontifical Mission launched an appeal to help the local Syrian Church provide emergency help for all those who needed aid because of their displacement from their houses and properties.
By May 2012 CNEWA/PM started to receive positive answers to its appeal and has been able to raise around euro 495,000 in addition to US$ 1,030,328 from the following donors:
– Kindermissionswerk Germany allocated the amount of Euro 130,000 to help
the displaced Syrian children aged between 0 and 14 years old.
– Archdiocese of Cologne has allocated the amount of Euro 150,000 in order
to help displaced Christian families inside Syria.
– Missio has also allocated the amount of Euro 50,000 in order to help
displaced Christian families inside Syria and Lebanon.
– CNEWA allocated the amount of US$ 285,000 to help displaced families
in Syria and Lebanon.
– Embrace the Middle East has so far allocated the amount of GBP 95,000
to displaced families in Aleppo and other parts of Syria.
– Misereor provided a grant in the amount of Euro 165,000 for the purpose
of strengthening of self-help capacities of Syrian refugee families
– And finally, an anonymous donor provided grants in the amount of $594,328
for the purpose of helping students in Homs, the Christian valley, and other
parts of Syria to facilitate the integration of displaced students in their
Implementation and progress
On 15 May 2012, the CNEWA/PM regional director signed cooperative agreements with the following partners:
– The Sisters of the Good Shepherd congregation represented by its
Provincial Superior Sister Marie-Claude Naddaf, to help the two centers
located in Akrama- Homs and the second center located in the old city
– The Greek Catholic Patriarchate of Antioch represented by Fr. Maher
Mansour, to support the patriarchate in providing emergency help to
refugees in Damascus.
– The Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch represented by engineer Samer
Director of Ecumenical Relations and Development, to provide
emergency help to families displaced from Homs to the valley of Christians
and villages surrounding Homs.
– Fr. Elian Nasrallah, the Greek Catholic parish priest of al Kaa village; a
Lebanese village located on the border with Syria and very close to al
Qusayr Syrian village.
– Fr. Ziad Hilal, a Jesuit priest working in Homs to help displaced children.
– Mr. Albert Zoghby, the territorial vice president of Saint Vincent de Paul
Society for the middle East and North Africa, to help the two centers of
Al Hassake and Damascus
to provide emergency aids to Christian
– Sr. Sonia El Samra, a nun and a social worker, working with volunteers
to identify and help Syrian refugees in Lebanon.
– Fr. Walid Iskandafi (Superior General of Saint Peter’s convent and general
vicar of Greek Catholic Bishop Sawwaf)
– Fr. Albert Abi Azar, a Greek Catholic Lebanese priest, Director of
l’Association Libanaise pour la Promotion Humaine et l’Alphabétisation
(ALPHA) and currently working as missionary in Aleppo.
– Sr. Mona Corbani, (the coordinator of socio-pastoral projects, on behalf
of Sisters of Charity of Besancon congregation) the sisters in Damascus
and Houran are very active among displaced population.
– Brother Georges Sabeh, representing Marist brothers congregation in
– Bishop Boutros Mrayati, Armenian Catholic Bishop of Aleppo
representing the Armenian community ( Catholic, Orthodox and Evangelical)
– Karagheusian social center representing all Armenian rites — Bourj Hammoud
– Sr. Wardeh Kairouz, representing the Franciscan Missionary sisters in
According to this agreement:
1) The Pontifical Mission (referred to as first party) will be responsible for all the fund raising and collecting donations from international and church donors for the purpose of providing emergency assistance to the displaced families who have lost their homes and sources of living and revenues.
2) The Pontifical Mission will cooperate and coordinate with the second party to assure the receipt of all data concerning the families that requested support from the second party and will allocate necessary funds to enable the second party to provide assistance as needed to the beneficiaries.
3) The local partner representing the local Syrian church (referred to as second party) undertakes through coordination and cooperation with the first party to abide by the rules and conditions of the provided grants regarding the selection of beneficiaries, their social conditions, age and/or gender and undertakes to provide lists in the names of the beneficiaries with their signatures and all the required documents (invoices, receipts, etc.).
4) The second party commits to full transparency in informing the first party in due time for any occurring changes in the nature of the needs or regarding receiving similar aids from other donors for the same purpose to prevent duplication and waste of funds.
5) The Pontifical Mission in turn undertakes to be discreet in dealing with the lists of the names of beneficiaries in a way that does not subject these families to any physical danger.
6) This is the general basis for the cooperation protocol between the two partiers without incurring any obligation to specific amounts.
Accomplishments throughout 2013 for the Syrian Refugees:
Through CNEWA/Pontifical Mission in Amman, and with the cooperation of the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary (FMM), Comboni Sisters in Kerak, Mother of Mercy Clinic in Zerqa (Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine), we managed to help the Syrian families who left their country seeking refuge in Jordan.
The program targeted needy Syrian families coming from Homs, Aleppo and Damascus. Many end up in refugee camps, but we targeted and assisted the Syrian families who are living in the villages and cities around the country. Our program was designed to provide those families with health care and medicine, pre- and post-natal care, in addition to food tickets, rent payments, stoves, beds, bed mattresses, kitchen sets, etc.
The total amounts received during 2013 for the Syrian refugees were US$45,981 from:
|Total amount received from||US$|
|CNEWA — CANADA||$10,000|
|Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulcher||$35,981|
To date, we have supported the following:
– Medical treatment provided by the Italian Hospital in Kerak (33 in-patients and 242 out-patients). All were Muslims.
– Mother of Mercy clinic provided its services for 275 Syrian individuals up till November 2013. All were Muslims.
– With the coordination of the Franciscan Sisters, food tickets were provided two times in 2013 for 76 Syrian Christian families. In addition, 16 Syrian Christian families received other types of humanitarian assistance.
Activities implemented during 2012-2013
Following the signature of different agreements, the CNEWA/Pontifical Mission Beirut office started to receive necessary data regarding the displaced families-including their names, ID numbers, current addresses, phone numbers, number of family members with the different ages of children, special medical needs, social situation and employment, etc.
The program targeted displaced families from the battle zones especially from Homs, Qusayr Deir el Zor, rural Damascus, Aleppo, Houran, and different areas in Lebanon.
Until the present date, CNEWA/Pontifical Mission has received from different donors the amount of euro 495,000 in addition to US$ 1,030,328 and has disbursed the total amount of US$ 839,642 as shown in the table below: