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Syrian refugees arrive on Greece's Lesbos island in August 2015 Syrian refugees arrive on Greece's Lesbos island in August 2015  (AFP or licensors)

Caritas calls for immediate end to sanctions on Syria

Caritas Internationalis and the Church in Syria have appealed for urgent aid for Syrians plagued by 10 years of civil war, and for support to NGOs reaching out to them.

By Robin Gomes

Caritas Internationalis on Tuesday launched a heartfelt appeal to the international community urging for an immediate end to sanctions on Syria, saying people are being hardest hit by the 10-year-old war.

During an online press conference, the federation of national Catholic charities worldwide, its local partner, Caritas Syria, and Apostolic Nuncio to Syria, Cardinal Mario Zenari, joined their voices to call for governments to meet the most urgent needs of Syrians, including the pandemic emergency.  On March 15, the Syrian civil-war entered the 10th year, with no sign of an end on the horizon.

End to sanctions

“Caritas Internationalis joins the voice of the Church in Syria and calls on the international community and the European Union to immediately remove all unilateral sanctions, which only aggravate the humanitarian conditions of Syrians”, said Caritas Internationalis Secretary-General Aloysius John.

The press event was organized to garner support for the needs of Syrians ahead of the crucial 5th Brussels Conference on March 29 and 30, sponsored by the European on “Supporting the future of Syria and the region”.  John said the Conference is an opportunity that “should be seized to send a strong message of hope and brotherhood to the Syrian people”.

Priorities

According to Caritas, some 12 million people have been displaced by the civil war. Six million of them have been displaced within the country, 5 million are refugees in neighbouring countries, especially in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey, and 1 million are elsewhere. Caritas has helped more than a million Syrians, including over 200,000 in very desperate situations.   

“Syrians, especially the younger generation,” John said, “cannot afford any more the trials and violence of this war.” 

“They deserve the best. Can we deceive them?” he asked. Among other issues that Caritas asked to be prioritized are basic needs and services, including essential healthcare supplies, Covid-19 vaccines and treatment for Syrians within and outside the country. 

The Caritas secretary-general also called for support and ensuring good working conditions for NGOs, especially the faith-based organizations active in Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey who are in the frontline of reaching out to Syrians. 

Negotiated peace, not military action

John asserted with Pope Francis that military action will only build hatred and will not help end Syria’s protracted crisis.  

“A negotiated peace solution is the only way,” he said, adding, “peace must be given a chance to avoid the continued stalemate, which only results in untold sufferings to innocent civilians.”  Caritas and the Syrian Church thus called for an “urgent diplomatic action” to restart the peace process and bring all parties in conflict to the negotiating table.

Cardinal Zenari, who spoke at the press conference, regretted that, even after 10 years of the country’s bloody conflict, the peace process is still deadlocked and the reconstruction and recovery process of the nation has not yet begun. 

Even though bombs and rockets have not fallen on various regions of the country for some months, he said, the “terrible bomb of poverty has exploded”, forcing 90 percent of the population below the poverty line, the highest percentage in the world.

High inflation, corruption and sanctions, combined with the Lebanese crisis and the Covid-19 pandemic, he said, have made essential commodities such as food, fuel and electricity extremely expensive, in meagre supply or almost non-existent.

Despite the grim situation, the Holy See’s representative sees hope in the generous solidarity of numerous humanitarian organizations, such as the United Nations agencies, governments, NGOs and volunteers, who are helping Syrians with a lifeline for survival and providing for education, healthcare and other basic needs. 

However, said Cardinal Zenari, this precious international aid risks diminishing and cannot continue forever. What is needed is to devise “suitable and far-sighted solutions” capable of enabling Syrians, exhausted by war, to regain peace and to begin the reconstruction of the country.

23 March 2021, 17:08