25 Feb 2015

Aid to the Church in Need, a Catholic charity helping persecuted Christians around the world, has pledged $2.8 million in emergency aid to help Christians in Syria. They have “benefited only to a limited extent” from relief provided by the United Nations and secular nongovernmental organizations, the charity said. “In many cases, Christians are reluctant to register themselves with aid agencies (and) formally identify themselves as Christians for fear of extremist Muslim reprisals who persecute Christians for their faith and their perceived support of the Syrian regime,” it said in announcing the aid. “Relief efforts have been hampered across the board,” the charity added, “due to continued fighting and the dramatic rise” of the Islamic State, known as ISIS. Aid to the Church in Need will fund a number of projects to help sizable Christian communities in Aleppo, Homs, Damascus and other Syrian cities and villages hard hit by the war, said Father Andrzej Halemba, the head of the charity’s Middle East section. Since the outbreak of Syria’s civil war in spring 2011, the death toll has exceeded 200,000, according to several monitoring groups. Hundreds of Christians have died and tens of thousands have been driven from their homes, the charity said. “Countless families are without a reliable source of income; children and youth are barred from continuing their education: half of all the country’s schools are damaged, destroyed or used as shelter for fighters. Hundreds of thousands of Syrian Christians have become refugees in Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan. Official estimates put the number of people affected by the war in Syria at 12.2 million people. About 7.8 million have been displaced internally, while 4.8 million Syrians live in barely accessible parts of the country or in active war zones. Some 5.6 million children are directly affected by the war; 3 million students are no longer able to attend school. Father Halemba, citing concerns of local church leaders, said there is “a new and, unfortunately, justified fear of religious cleansing. The Islamic State openly shows its murderous intentions against anyone who does not bend to its brand of extremism.” Aside from “confronting the threat of ISIS,” the international community has “drifted into a form of neglect of the Syrian crisis,” the priest said. With its emergency assistance, Aid to the Church in Need said it will, among other things, provide 4,500 vulnerable families with money funds to pay for oil, gas electricity and cover rent for four months; ensure medical supplies for communities in Aleppo and Hassake for six months; pay for repairs at a half dozen schools; and help repair badly damaged churches, catechetical centers and diocesan offices.