Over half a million Euros is being allocated for the support of more than 20,000 families in Syria affected by the COVID-19 crisis.
The continuing emergency facing Christians in Syria has been further exacerbated by the crisis, and in response the international Catholic pastoral charity and pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN International) has put into action a new aid programme for the support of Syrian families now in grave need. The emergency plan will benefit a total of 20,550 families of various denominations – Catholic, Orthodox and Protestants. The emergency measures taken in response to the coronavirus – for example the closing of shops and schools and the stopping of travel between the different towns – have plunged many into grave crisis and strained the financial capacities of the local churches in Syria to the very limit.
„Each family will receive a one-off subsidy of 25 Euros, so that they can purchase essential foodstuffs and articles of hygiene to protect themselves against the coronavirus. This may not seem much, but it represents approximately half the monthly income of an average Syrian family and is thereby a lifesaver. This emergency support will reach many people. However, it must be implemented without delay, before the pandemic spreads throughout the entire country“, explains Thomas Heine-Geldern, the executive president of ACN International.
The aid programme, worth over half a million euros altogether, is divided into seven separate projects, so that the support can be organised according to the various different geographical population centres. Those supported by the programme include many people from bombed-out cities shattered during the war – for example 6,190 families from Aleppo and 7,680 from Homs; but it will also help some 400 families from the towns of Al-Hassakeh and Al-Qamishli in northeastern Syria, at the area of the current fighting.
„We are still supporting over a hundred other projects, both small and large, in Syria“, Heine-Geldern explained. „Some have had to be limited on account of the pandemic, but many are continuing, for example our project Drop of Milk, which supplies hundreds of babies and small children with vital milk rations. But nevertheless we believe that this new aid programme will be an important signal of encouragement to our brothers and sisters in this country and will give them spiritual comfort as well as financial support.“
Many people in Syria have already reached the end of their strength, as a result of the war and the ongoing economic sanctions. But now they have to face a new enemy, the coronavirus. „We are not going to abandon the Christians in Syria now“, insists the ACN president.
During the nine years of the Civil War, the Syrian Christians suffered greatly. Prior to 2011 discrimination against Christians was rare, and there was only a limited amount of emigration. However, now Christians feel they have become second-class citizens, abandoned by the government and discriminated against by other Syrians. During the war their properties and possessions were destroyed, looted or sold off cheaply. Many have lost their jobs. On account of the sanctions and closure of frontiers, it is difficult to get outside aid into the country. On top of this, the banking system in neighbouring Lebanon, which to some degree kept the system going in Syria, has now collapsed on account of the political and social crisis, followed by the pandemic. There is now runaway inflation in the country.