10/14/2010, 00.00
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Christian refugees turning to prostitution to survive

For Mgr Audo, bishop of Aleppo, and Fr Farid Botros, a Chaldean Catholic priest in Damascus, the problem is growing.

Damascus (AsiaNews) –  Chaldean Christian refugees from Iraq are turning to prostitution in order to survive in Syria. Fr Farid Botros, head of the Chaldean community in the Syrian capital, is concerned about the trend, which is growing to hitherto unknown levels. “We have about 4,000 Chaldean families from Iraq, some fled with just the clothes on their back with a death threat hanging over them. Under Syrian law, they cannot work. Many do something underground; others, more and more, turn to prostitution,” he said.

In his estimation, about 20,000 Iraqi Christians currently live in Damascus, helped in various ways by the Church, which helps all the refugees, irrespective of their religion by providing medical care, housing (there are no camps for refugees who must live in private homes) as well as material and  spiritual support.

A few days ago, the Chaldean Catholic bishop of Aleppo, Mgr Antoine Audo SJ, spoke in London about the plight of Christian refugees forced into prostitution out of desperation.

“This is a big problem, and we don’t know how to deal with it,” he said. “I have asked the Little Sisters of Jesus to help us. The reason is poverty, and in Syria, there are no regulations and no laws to defend them [prostitutes]. It is a new problem to have prostitution in this quantity in a Christian community.”

Still, for both the bishop and Father Farid, it is not all gloom and doom. About a thousand Iraqi Christian catechists are being trained in Damascus. Plans are being drawn up to open a new high school for both Iraqis and Syrians.

Initially, Syria welcomed 1.2 million refugees, including 60,000 Christians, but now it has closed its borders because of fear of terrorism.

Prostitution is not the only problem that bothers Bishop Audo, the growing presence of veiled women in the streets and workplaces, a sign of the rising tide of Islamic fundamentalism, is another. “ We don’t feel pressure against Christian communities yet, but it is a growing trend.”

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