As the country enters its tenth year of civil war, the situation remains critical. Hospitals are on their knees, hundreds of thousands of people are dead, and new humanitarian emergencies unfold. Fr Georges, a Blue Marist, a month ago thought that the liberation of Aleppo would bring peace. That illusion vanished amid “asphyxiating desperation”. The West fights jihadists at home but supports them in Syria. Catholics offer an example of openness and solidarity.
On 16 February he wrote, "hope is now, it is not in a distant future.” Like many Syrians he believed that peace “was knocking on our doors,” but “that breeze of fresh air was soon replaced by asphyxiating desperation”. Indeed, “the war is not over...”
Fr Georges remembers that “fateful date of March 15, 2011 when it all started”; a popular uprising, street protests, part of a wider movement dubbed the Arab Spring, broke out in some countries in North Africa and the Middle East.
What started as a domestic affair turned into the 21st century’s worst war, a proxy war between rival powers, one that drew jihadi groups making it even bloodier.
In nine years, almost 400,000 people have died, dozens of cities have been razed to the ground and half of the population has been internally displaced or forced abroad.
Hospitals and medical clinics are among the most affected facilities, as Apostolic Nuncio to Damascus, Card Mario Zenari, said. The danger of a humanitarian catastrophe remains.
Since 2016, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has documented 494 attacks on hospitals and clinics across Syria, resulting in the death of 470 doctors and patients and the injury of 968 others.
The conflict has not spared homes and civilian infrastructure. The latest episode involves up to a million people forced to flee to the Turkish border. For the United Nations, this is the worst mass exodus since the beginning of the war.
“Turkey,” Fr Georges writes, “launched an operation in Syria to protect the terrorists. The Syrian army moves towards Idlib while retaking the villages which were under the control of the Al Nosra front. The main M5 highway is again cut off. Fights are raging. Hundreds of young people are losing their lives.”
With respect to the West, the clergyman wonders “Why do Westerners treat the jihadists as terrorists when they arrive in their countries, and when the Syrian government tries to eliminate terrorism in Syria, these same Westerners talk about a humanitarian crisis?”
Among the "forgotten of Idlib,” who are in Pope Francis’s heart, there are “thousands of Christian and Muslim families retained by the jihadists [. . .] for more than 8 years, [. . .] prevented them from living with dignity”.
Finally, the Marist priest notes that the embargo "affects the population on a daily basis,” impoverishing “the poorest" and turning “us into a people of beggars.”
In this context, the humanitarian and social work promoted by the Marists remains fundamental. During the years of war and violence, it has never failed and was recently praised by President Bashar al-Assad himself, embodying the “ideal Syrian society: a model of openness and solidarity, an example of defending the interests of the poorest.”