Caritas Syria: The country risks exploding and could even overwhelm Europe

Sandra Awad, head of the Catholic institution's communications in Syria, speaks of the loss of a volunteer killed by bombs and the daily suffering of an increasingly impoverished population. Peace must come "from within" and mercy is “increasingly needed”. Educational and support projects in favor of the poor, the elderly and children.

Damascus (AsiaNews) - In Syria "we are living in a pressure cooker. This pressure cooker exploded one year ago, and its shrapnel started reaching Western countries. Thousands of immigrants began to arrive on Europe’s shores in the summer of 2015, and it was only then that international politics and governments started talking of a political solution in Syria. But here, people have been suffering from the conflict for a much longer time": these are the words of Sandra Awad, head of communication for Caritas Syria, a 38 year old married mother of two, who experiences firsthand the everyday tragedy of the war. "The fact they began talking of peace -she adds - is important, and it give us hope, but I just feel sorry, as peace in Syria for these countries is a matter of self-protection, and not a will help an exhausted and suffering population".

On March 14 a new round of peace talks on Syria is expected to begin. The UN special envoy Staffan de Mistura is ready to receive the various delegations for "indirect" talks, although fear of another failure weighs heavily. One of the main objectives is a lasting "cessation of hostilities" between the government and (varied) militias of the opposition, although in the last few hours there have been attacks undermining the truce.

Five years of conflict have left more than 270 thousand people dead and produced an unprecedented humanitarian. The partial truce in recent weeks, however, has helped reduce the number of civilian casualties.

"It is very important - emphasizes the Caritas spokeswoman - that the international community has begun to talk about peace. However, it must come from within Syria itself, from the heart of the Syrian people, and not from panel discussions of foreign policy ".

Meanwhile, the conditions on the ground are becoming more difficult: according to studies of the Syrian Center for Policy Research, the poverty rate had reached 85.2% at the end of 2015. 69.3% live in critical conditions (i.e, they cannot meet basic needs), and about 35% of the population has fallen into absolute poverty.

Sandra Awad continues: “In spite of the different aid programs we have in Caritas Syria, and the big effort we are doing to help needy people in our country, for sure we need more support from the Catholic western countries, whether financial or moral support".  

The Catholic organization was founded in Syria in 1954 and distinguished itself in aiding Iraqi refugees fleeing the war in the early 1990s. "With the outbreak of the Syrian conflict - continues the Catholic activist - Caritas began to expand its activities by helping as many people as possible without distinction of sex, religion, race, doctrine. Workers and volunteers now cover six areas: Damascus, Aleppo, Homs, the coastal area, Hassakeh and Horan".

In 2015, with the intensification of the crisis and the growing number of displaced persons and needy, Caritas managed to reach and help over 205 thousand people, distributing food, basic necessities, clothes, dishes, blankets, cleaning agents; paying rent and providing medical assistance (medicines, operations, consulting), and even educational projects for children and help for the elderly. Moreover, in situations of war Caritas is taking the lead thanks to the work of dozens of volunteers and professionals, from the perspective of "love, charity and sharing" for the suffering, which characterizes their work.

In recent years there have been moments of crisis and suffering, as was the case recently with the death of a young man: "On the night of 13 February - the Caritas officer continues - one of our volunteers in the educational projects Elias Abiad, was killed by a mortar round. Elias was a friendly young man and very active, capable of bringing joy and love, he was always the first to arrive in our office. " A fellow volunteer named Malakeh said of him: "He was able to make us laugh and console us in every moment of life. Even today it is as if we felt his presence and soul around us. We wanted to put a picture of him in the office to remind us of his smile, the joy and the love that he transmitted".

Moreover the peoples’ attitude to the conflict itself has changed: "At the beginning of the war, when we heard the noise of the bombs - explains Sandra Awad - we were scared. We would barricade ourselves in our home, interrupting any activity. Now, six years later, people are accustomed to these noises and continue their lives unaffected. When a mortar falls, within a few minutes people are back on the street, as if nothing had happened. " What you see outside is people who are "brave" who want to go on living, "despite the dangers." But looking deeper into their hearts "you would see that every mortar is a wound to the heart ... Our roads are full of mortar rounds, full of holes, like our hearts!".

In a country battered by violence and conflict, the Jubilee of Mercy proclaimed by Pope Francis takes on an even deeper value: "Mercy – says the Caritas activist - is what we need most in our country, we need the mercy from the whole world, we need you to support us here inside, help us extinguish the fire of war in our country and don’t fuel it more by blaming one party without the other, talk loudly about the truth, about the human being who is suffering tremendously in Syria, stop the sanctions on our country, which are making rich people richer, and poor people even poorer. Press your governments to stop the war in Syria and stop sending weapons and Jihadists, help us rebuild our beloved country".