On the second day of a CRS-sponsored trip to Lebanon, Bishop Gerald Kicanas, chairman of the CRS Board of Directors, hears stories about thousands living in abandoned buildings inside Syria, and a young Muslim boy hoping to help Christians, with assistance from an order of Catholic nuns.
Below is the second of three blogs he wrote during his trip.
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By Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas
Today, we listened to a wide range of people with knowledge about the situation within Syria and its impact on surrounding countries. We met with high-ranking Church prelates in the region as well as the U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon, Maura Connelly, who all shared with us their perspective on the rapidly changing situation.
It is clear that the situation in Syria and in the region is precarious. We heard the announcement that the Government forces recaptured Al Qusayr, a city on the border with Lebanon. This was seen as a significant event. There was speculation that there may be continued escalation of fighting as each side seeks to gain momentum in anticipation of the International Summit that was to take place in Geneva in June but has now been postponed until at least July.
Some believe that the situation in Syria has real potential to spread into neighboring countries, while others do not see that as likely since nothing would be gained by such an escalation. Clearly Iran and Saudi Arabia, Russia, China, and the United States among many nations have a deep interest in the region and their roles can affect what unfolds.
Those we spoke with clearly see the humanitarian situation worsening and there is clearly a need for more international assistance. The number of Syrians being displaced within the country continues to mount as do the number of people crossing neighboring borders seeking security.
We heard of families that have been displaced within Syria multiple times. Some are living in parks and others in abandoned buildings in Syria. In Aleppo, where hundreds of thousands have been left homeless, we heard of two unfinished buildings near the center of the city which are refuge for 3,500 people. These buildings are not equipped with electricity, water or a sewage system. One can only imagine the conditions these people are living in.
Many displaced or those fleeing to other countries seek help from family members who are also poor, living in small houses with few resources putting increased pressure on those families. Some come expecting to stay with extended family for only a few days but end up staying for prolonged periods.
The steep rising cost of living in Syria has made life even more precarious for those displaced in the country. Assistance that in the past was adequate is no longer sufficient.
Within Syria there is a desperate need for medicine, shelter, food, and psycho-social services for people, especially children traumatized by the violence and fighting. As diseases spread because of unsanitary conditions and medical services become scarce, people with health issues have nowhere to turn.
Some suggested that the desperate need has drawn people from different faith traditions to a deeper sensitivity for one another. We were told of a young displaced Muslim boy who had been assisted by Catholic Sisters and returned later to plead with them to help a group of displaced Syrian Christians he had come across in a nearby park.
Clearly those we met with believe that the flow of arms into Syria should end and that a resolution of the conflict is desperately urgent. The fighting that is wreaking havoc on people’s lives must stop. There needs to be increased effort for a political, negotiated solution to the crisis. Greater effort by the International community must be made to alleviate the humanitarian crisis that is ensuing both within Syrian and the region.
At the end of the day we met with Catholic Relief Services staff in Beirut. What an amazing group of people. They are of different faith traditions, from different countries, some local, some from elsewhere but all have a deep concern and interest to alleviate the suffering being experienced by so many. We prayed together in the morning and shared supper together in the evening. They are such a blessing and gift representing our Church in serving others with distinction.