CAFOD has produced a “question and answer” information sheet for supporters about the crisis in Syria, which has dominated the news for the last two weeks. However, the war has been going now for more than two years with over 100,000 people killed.
What has happened?
After more than two years of civil war, the situation in Syria is catastrophic and continues to deteriorate. There is on-going fighting between government forces and opposition groups across the country, and the recent chemical weapons attack in Damascus was widely seen as a significant escalation in the conflict. In total, more than 100,000 people have been killed.
The United Nations estimates that 6.8 million people – almost one-third of the population – are in need of aid in Syria. More than 4.25 million people have been driven from their homes within Syria, and at least two million registered refugees have fled the country. With many refugees unwilling or unable to register officially, the true figure is likely to be far higher. This is the biggest displacement crisis ever, and it has necessitated the largest humanitarian response in history.
What are the humanitarian needs?
Food and water: Because of blockades, sanctions, a lack of fuel and large-scale displacement, food is extremely difficult to access in many parts of Syria. Where food is available, prices have soared, making it increasingly difficult for many families to afford. Water supplies have also been disrupted in many areas.
Healthcare: 60 per cent of public hospitals in Syria have been destroyed or damaged because of the fighting, and the functioning ones are over-crowded. There are severe shortages of medicines. The lack of safe drinking water and sanitation has led to an increase in waterborne disease.
Shelter and household goods: One third of all homes in Syria have been destroyed, and many people need shelter and support. An estimated 5,000 people are fleeing into neighbouring countries every day, many with little more than the clothes they are wearing. The number of refugees has doubled since March and increased by nearly ten times since August last year.
Unemployment: The war has left the Syrian economy in tatters, and many families no longer have the means to make a living. Poorer families have been particularly badly affected.
Protection: There has been an increase in human rights violations, including massacres, indiscriminate bombing of towns and cities, kidnappings, torture of prisoners, rape and sexual assault. There have also been reports of children being recruited into armed forces.
What are CAFOD and its partners doing?
We are supporting Church partners in Syria, who are providing food parcels, medical aid and relief supplies and helping people to find safe places to stay. We are one of relatively few UK aid agencies able to work in Syria. The extensive community networks of the Church, even as a minority faith, mean that it is well placed to provide aid in some of the worst hit and most inaccessible areas of the country.
We are also working with our Caritas partners in Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan to ensure that newly arrived refugees have food, medical support, clothes and safe places to stay.
Does CAFOD support western military intervention?
No. Like everyone else, we were shocked by the images of the chemical weapons attack in Damascus, and we understand why governments around the world want to do something to respond. But in a very complex situation, CAFOD and our church partners across the region are clear that the only lasting solution to the crisis is a political settlement through dialogue and diplomacy. We support Pope Francis’s call on world leaders to “help find ways to overcome the conflicting positions and to lay aside the futile pursuit of a military solution.”
What’s life like for refugees?
The refugees are living wherever they can find shelter – in camps, cowsheds, derelict or half-built buildings, even in the open air. Children are often traumatised after seeing their parents killed or homes destroyed in front of them. They urgently need peace and the opportunity to go home and rebuild their lives.
How much has the CAFOD appeal raised?
Thanks to the immense generosity of our supporters, our appeal has so far raised more than £1.9 million. However, the need is still great and thousands more Syrians become refugees every day.
To download a copy of this Q&A information sheet, just click below: