Aid to the Church in Need has rushed through a series of new emergency aid packages as hunger and sub-zero temperatures threaten the lives of people across Syria and neighbouring countries.
Increasingly alarmed by the deepening crisis engulfing the region, the charity has agreed aid – food, heating, shelter and medicine – for some of the worst-affected regions in Syria as well as for those seeking sanctuary over the border.
Destitute communities in Homs, Marmarita and Sadad are receiving £75,000 each and a further £41,500 is bound for Nebek. Last month, Aid to the Church in Need announced a £33,000 aid package for 215 destitute Christian families taking shelter in Damascus in a scheme organised by Homs, Marmarita and Sadad.
The aid – on top of the charity's aid packages topping £2.5 million dating back almost to the start of the Syrian crisis – comes amid reports that the region is on course to suffer its worst winter for 100 years. Leading clergy, who are spearheading Aid to the Church in Need's relief work, have highlighted the crisis for destitute children, many of whom have been orphaned by the war.
The charity's decision to continue prioritising aid for Syria comes amid worsening reports of violence against Christians in what is fast becoming one of the worst phases of sustained persecution of the new millennium. Aid to the Church in Need's latest project grants include aid for Aleppo, one of the most dangerous urban areas, especially for Christians, who have been under threat from Al Qaeda militants in control of much of the region.
Latest reports say up to 600,000 Syrian Christians – a third of the total – are either displaced within the country or living as refugees in neighbouring countries.
Highlighting the massive exodus of Christians from Syria, Aid to the Church in Need's Middle East projects coordinator Fr Andrzej Halemba said: "It is now a case of to be or not to be for the future of Christians in Syria."
Fr Halemba, who has carried out repeated trips to the region to oversee aid plans, said: "We are helping to do what we can to keep hope alive."
He highlighted the crisis in Sadad, one of those communities receiving a second tranche of aid, where a massacre of Christians in October prompted a mass exodus. Many have since returned. He said: "The number of Christians killed because they are targeted for their faith is growing. Sadad is a very clear case. They were slaughtered like animals."
Outside Syria, Aid to the Church in Need's aid includes a grant of £12,500 for Iraqi Christians who have fled to Turkey. Many had been taking refuge in Syria.
The charity has provided ongoing medical help for refugees arriving in Lebanon cared for by the Good Shepherd Sisters at their St Antony's Clinic in a Beirut suburb. Fr Halemba said: "The Sisters are helping families coming to them. They had to flee the bombing."
Elsewhere in Lebanon, Melkite Greek Catholic Archbishop Issam John Darwish is providing food, heating and clothing for more than 540 refugee families in his diocese, the Archeparchy of Zahleh e Furzol. According to the archbishop, many of the refugees are scared of registering at the camps, fearing their details will be passed to extremists. He said: "It is a remarkable fact that the Christians who have fled from Syria are so gripped with fear and horror that they will not register."
Among those being helped by the Melkite diocese is Basman Kassouha who, like many other Christians, was forced to leave his home when militant soldiers attacked it. He said: "They stormed my house, giving me one hour to evacuate or else they would kill me." Mr Kassouha has tried to start a new life in Lebanon, but urgently needed help to feed his family. He said: "I live here in two rooms in Barbara Quarter. I'm trying my best to find work to support my family. I'm heartbroken. I've lost everything."
Another Christian refugee who fled with his family, 50-year-old Fadi Gearous Kassouha, also left everything when he fled Syria. He said: "My house is burned down. All my life savings have gone and I'm left with nothing. I have six children. May God forgive them for they don't know what they are doing."
Archbishop Darwish went on to thank the benefactors of Aid to the Church in Need for their generous support. He said: "I would like very much to extend my gratitude for all your support and help in the Syrian crisis."
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