03/18/2015, 00.00
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Gregory III Laham: as Lebanon closes borders, the plight of Syrian Christians gets worse

The Melkite patriarch talks to AsiaNews about the worsening situation of Syria's internally displaced people compared to those outside of the country. Border crossings are still open for Christians from Hassakeh, victims of the Islamic State group. War is the cause "of all evil". During Lent, Damascus churches are full of people praying for peace.

Damascus (AsiaNews) - The decision to close Lebanon's borders "has aggravated the problem of Christian refugees." In addition to refugees in camps outside the country, now there are many "internally displaced people" in Syria, and they "represent an even greater problem," Melkite Patriarch Gregory III Laham told AsiaNews.

As he renews his call for "an end to the war," which is the main source of evil not only in Syria but also in the whole Middle East, Syrian and Iraqi Christians who in recent months fled to Lebanon are calling for "more aid from the international community":

Syrian and Iraqi Christians have pleaded for more international help in Lebanon where they recently arrived after fleeing attacks by Islamic State group (IS) militants, including new housing.

Since the beginning of the uprising against Syrian President Bashar al Assad in 2011, more than 3.2 million people have fled the country whilst another 7.6 million have become internally displaced. At least 200,000 people have been killed in the fighting, many of them civilians. Last year was the worse.

In the spring of 2013, IS emerged out of the cauldron of Syria's civil war, with all its violence and brutality. From that point, it advanced rapidly, seizing large swathes of Syrian and Iraqi territory.

In Beirut, two churches are dealing with the aftermath of the situation. Thousands of people continue to line up for food baskets and other humanitarian assistance from NGOs.

One of them is 42-year-old Iman Chamoun, a woman who fled the Iraqi city of Mosul around nine months ago, after IS fighters swept in.

"They took everything, the house, furniture; they even took the doors," she said. "The work of 25 years was lost in one minute . . . It's like living a dream, a nightmare".

Others have similar stories. "We used to live like kings in our land, our sons had free education; we had everything. Look at me now," cried a small, middle-aged woman from Tel Nasri, a predominantly Assyrian village in Syria's north-eastern Hassakeh province.

After fleeing to Lebanon last week with her two children, leaving behind her husband to guard the house, she now found herself on the side of a road with two new mattresses and a food basket she had just collected.

She might be one of the last to arrive. Lebanon has in fact just closed its borders with Syria, because it is no longer able to accommodate more waves of refugees. The exception are Christians from Hassakeh.

Recently, IS was on the offensive in the province, where it abducted hundreds of Christians, many of whom are still being held.

For Syrian Christians, Lebanon is an "easier" choice, said Patriarch Gregory III Laham, because "in this country they can keep alive the hope of returning home one day," and "of preserving a Christian presence in the region."

However, Lebanon now has "closed its borders" and "will no longer accept anyone but those fleeing from the villages in Hassakeh" because "it is no longer able to handle more people, more refugees, because of limited resources, including school space for children."

For the Melkite Patriarch, things are twice as bad now because "the tragedy is getting bigger" and "Lebanese authorities and international organisations can no longer meet the needs of the refugees." For this reason, "help is so important," he said.

"However, what is really needed is an end to the war." In a plea to foreign governments, he said they can "end the war" by "cutting the supply of money and weapons", which are fuelling tensions and violence.

"War is the one and only problem," he said. "This is why we are praying for an end to the fighting."

Since it is Lent, the churches in Damascus "are full of the faithful calling for peace," the patriarch said. "They are praying with renewed vigour for a future of peace" in Syria and throughout the Middle East. (DS)

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See also
Greek-Catholic Patriarch for the return of displaced people to Mount Lebanon
Greek Melkite Church: peace reached between Patriarch Gregory III and “rebel” bishops
25/02/2017 14:49
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Gregory III urges Christians in the Middle East not to emigrate
Gregory III Laham: "The future of Syria cannot be built on destruction"


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