SYRIA: Mass emigration threatening Christian future in Syria

Hope Centre beneficiary Youssef Afesa working in his smithy in Damascus. (© Hope Centre/ACN)
Hope Centre beneficiary Youssef Afesa working in his smithy in Damascus. (© Hope Centre/ACN)

Stark warnings have come from respected Church figures that urgent action is desperately needed to prevent the wipe-out of the Christian community in Syria. 

Father Basilios Gergeos, a priest ministering in Damascus, told Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN): “Ninety percent of Syria’s citizens are thinking of emigrating.”

While members of all faiths are leaving, the exodus threatens to disproportionately impact the country’s Christian community now estimated to number only about 175,000 families.

Speaking to ACN, the charity’s project partner Sister Annie Demerjian said emigration is being driven by dire poverty brought about by more than a decade of civil war and rampant inflation.

She said: “It’s simply not fair. Our people are starving. After 13 years of suffering, people are tired, they have lost hope.

“It’s terrible to hear them say they wish they were back in the time of war because they were better off then.”

But Sister Annie stressed that if they are given reasons to stay the Christians will remain.

She said: “This is a crucial moment. Either we help the remaining Christians to see a future for themselves, or they will all leave.”

Father Gergeos, who ministers in St Joseph’s Dwel’a, east Damascus, echoed Sister Annie’s view.

He said “If the Christians have a roof over their head and a job, they will stay here. It is their home, after all.”

ACN is backing the micro-projects provided by the Christian Hope Centre, which provide small loans so the faithful can set up their own businesses.

In Dwel’a, ACN is also supporting projects including a soup kitchen, activities for young people, a kindergarten, and a monthly distribution of milk to poor families, including for children who have growth problems because of malnutrition.

Father Gergeos said: “All of these schemes show the families that the Church cares for them and is here to help. The projects play a major part in determining whether they remain in Syria.”

With thanks to Sina Hartert