Mike Noyes is CAFOD’s Head of Humanitarian Programmes for Latin America, Asia and the Middle East
It is now two years since the outbreak of conflict in Syria. For a long time, the violence was relatively limited in its impact, with localised fighting and disturbances and with most of the victims being actively engaged in the fighting. The bombardment of Homs in February 2012 marked a change in the nature of the conflict. There was indiscriminate shelling of civilian neighbourhoods, and ordinary communities became targets in their own right. From there, the situation has deteriorated to the humanitarian emergency we see today.
Right now, we are facing a crisis as big as the one in Haiti after the earthquake. Millions of people have been uprooted from their homes by the fighting, and many are struggling to survive. Food supplies have been cut off: the United Nations says that 2.5 million people in Syria are in urgent need of food aid. In some areas, the price of bread has tripled. In other areas, food, fuel and basic supplies are simply not available.
Millions of people who have been forced from their homes need help finding shelter: with the economy in tatters, many families have nowhere to stay and can’t afford to pay rent or for heating.
Meanwhile, an estimated 7,000 refugees are streaming across the borders into neighbouring countries every day, preferring the uncertainty of a refugee camp in a foreign country to the certainty of devastated towns and villages and the risks of being caught in crossfire.
The people of Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan have shown great compassion in welcoming these refugees into their towns and their homes, but the sheer number of new arrivals is putting an enormous strain on already overstretched resources.
For more than a year, we’ve been working with local Church partners in Syria to provide food, clothes and relief supplies. I can’t tell you as much as I’d like to about the projects we’re supporting, because, in many cases, the priests and volunteer aid workers on the ground are risking their lives to deliver aid across the battle lines. Drawing too much attention to their work could put them in even greater danger.
What I can tell you is that the extensive community networks of the Church, even as a minority faith, mean that it is uniquely placed to provide aid in some of the worst hit and most inaccessible areas of the country.
We are also working in Lebanon and Turkey, where our sister agencies in the Caritas network – a coalition of Catholic aid agencies around the world – are ensuring that refugees have food, shelter and relief supplies, and that vulnerable children are well looked after.
Sadly, there is no sign of the war in Syria coming to an end. But with your support, we can scale up our work in Syria, as well as in neighbouring countries like Lebanon and Turkey, and help many more people in extreme need.