03/30/2021, 13.49
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For Aleppo bishop, international commitment to the end of the Syrian tragedy is a positive sign

The fifth Brussels Conference of Syria's donors opened. At least US$ 10 billion are needed in 2021 to meet needs. At least 24 million people are in serious need, four more than last year. For Bishop Audio, “a shared and global effort is needed”.

Aleppo (AsiaNews) – The Syrian people “is going through all sorts of difficulties in everyday life”, which is why any initiative that can politically and economically unblocked the situation is “a positive element”, especially if it involves “the international community,” this according to Mgr Antoine Audo, Chaldean Bishop of Aleppo.

The prelate, who is a former chairman of Caritas Syria, spoke to AsiaNews while a donors’ conference got underway in Brussels (Belgium) sponsored by the United Nations.

In his view, “a shared and global effort to get out of the Syrian crisis is needed, an international force” that can stop groups that “just want to continue the conflict for their own self-interest. This joint effort is part of the path indicated by Pope Francis, who recently renewed his appeal for the ‘beloved and martyred’ nation.”

Yesterday, the fifth Brussels Conference opened, involving donor countries under the auspices of the United Nations and the European Union. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the two-day event is held in a virtual format.

The leaders of more than 50 countries are taking part in the summit, along with representatives from 30 NGOs, financial institutions and humanitarian agencies.

The aim is to “mobilize the international community in support of a comprehensive and credible political solution to the Syria conflict," the EU External Action Service said.

The financial target is at least US billion for 2021: US$ 4.2 billion in humanitarian aid and US$ 5.8 billion to help refugees and the countries in the region hosting them.

According to the latest figures, at least 24 million people in Syria (and the Middle East region) need humanitarian assistance and aid to survive. That is four million more than last year's estimates, the highest since the conflict began.

Syria’s already precarious situation is compounded by the novel coronavirus pandemic, whose impact in terms of cases and deaths is far underestimated due to the lack of testing, tracking and effective data collection.

“The international community cannot turn their backs on the refugees or their hosts. Refugees and their hosts must get nothing less than our unfaltering commitment, solidarity and support,” said UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi. “A failure to do so will be catastrophic for the people and the [Mideast] region.”

From Aleppo, once the business hub of the country, Bishop Audo says that the country is still marked “by embargoes and sanctions, which block the supply of electricity and oil, and caused a very sharp devaluation of the Syrian pound.”

“We feel a sense of isolation, at the human and business level, and increasing poverty. Before, a dollar was worth 50 pounds; today it is 4,000 pounds while salaries have remained the same. These figures show what the level of crisis and poverty can be. For Syrians, meat and fruit are a luxury that one can no longer eat.”

“Even here in the Bishop's House, fasting and poverty are a real thing,” said the prelate. The situation is terrible, even though “Syria is a rich nation,” which “is why it is necessary to find a political solution and look to the future.”

In this context, “the sense of community is even stronger”, as evinced by the “packed churches and the faithful’s massive participation in Palm Sunday celebrations.

“Many followed the procession and, despite the difficulties, all the children wore their best clothes as a sign of hope. As a Church, we do everything to be present and bear witness to our commitment; we do not want more people to leave because of difficulties.” 

“The UN commitment and the international conference are a good sign, not least because they show greater global involvement to solve the crisis and find an honourable and enforceable solution for everyone, at home and among regional allies.

“As we say here, two conditions are needed to break the deadlock: an agreement between the United States and the Russians and a domestic pact between Syrian political and social forces.

“Our country must find the courage to overcome the rigidity of certain positions, it is not possible to reason thinking about the Syria of 50 years ago.” Now, “the time has come to imagine the future.”

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