News 14 Feb 2023

“There are almost no signs of an international response. The world must not forget Syria”

During a visit to the regions affected by the earthquake, the Apostolic Nuncio to Syria says that he saw “a sea of pain”.

Five days after the earthquake that shook southern Turkey and northern Syria, killing over 30 thousand people, several international aid groups continued to work on rescues in Turkey, showing the solidarity and support of the world. 

In Syria, however, it was a different story. “There are almost no signs of an international response: the only international volunteers I have seen personally in Syria are from Lebanon”, said Xavier Stephen Bisits, Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) representative in Lebanon and Syria, who travelled to Aleppo on the day of the earthquake, and on Friday visited Lattakia. “The world must not forget Syria”, he added, in a message to ACN.

Aleppo and Lattakia were two of the worst hit areas in Syria. Other cities, such as Homs and Hama also suffered damage, and there has been very little news from Idlib, closer to the Turkish border, which is still in Islamist hands. 

Eight Christians were killed by the earthquake in Lattakia, but hundreds saw their homes either damaged or destroyed, and had to seek shelter elsewhere. The Franciscan community in the city has been at the centre of the relief effort, and ACN will provide them with much-needed material and financial support. 

While visiting the Franciscans, Xavier Bisits met with several locals who are still in shock with what happened. “Many people are in despair. One woman, who had originally been displaced from Aleppo during the war, told me that she doesn’t want money, what she wants is to begin life again in another country. A 15-year-old boy told me he only had one wish: to take life back to how it was before the war. After 12 years of war, Covid, sanctions, and the collapse of the currency, this latest disaster is more than many people can bear”, he explains. 

“The Franciscan Friars are doing their best to support the population in this time of crisis and put their parish hall at the service of the people”, Xavier Bisits adds. 

Several buildings collapsed in Lattakia, including one in the north of the city which killed a family of Christians who had previously fled from Aleppo, due to the civil war. “The worst damage, however, seems to have been in the neighbouring town of Jableh, where between 20 and 30 buildings were reduced to rubble, including cases of multiple buildings collapsing in a row”, he added. 

Papal support

ACN‘s responsible met in Lattakia the Apostolic Nuncio Mario Zenari, who spoke to victims and volunteers, and promised them the support and prayers of the Catholic Church, adding that Pope Francis himself had sent financial aid to the relief effort in Syria. 

The Pope’s diplomatic representative in Syria also visited a local mosque where up to 2000 people gathered in the first nights after the earthquake, and which continues to be home to between 400 and 600 residents of Lattakia. 

In a message to ACN, the Nuncio did not try to hide his shock. “After visiting Aleppo, Lattakia and Jableh, my impression can be summed up like this: I saw a sea of pain.”

ACN has already approved a number of projects to help the local Catholic Church respond to this crisis. This initial amount of 500 thousand euros will go to projects aimed at providing immediate relief to some communities, but the main concern is managing to get houses surveyed by engineers, so that the population can move back in to houses that are considered safe. ACN is working with a committee of representatives from Churches in both Aleppo and Lattakia to develop a response to the situation.

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Article by Filipe d’Avillez

Featured Image; Visit of Xavier Bisits and Cardinal Mario Zenari (Apostolic Nuncio to Syria)(second from the left) to Lattakia and Jable after the earthquake. Father Fadi Azar (second from the right).

Credit; Aid to the Church in Need

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