Tuesday, November 6, 2012

The Humanitarian Crisis in Aleppo

Arabic original here. Please donate to the International Orthodox Christian Charities Syria relief fund here, by selecting the 'Syria Relief Fund' under 'designations'.

Relief Work in Aleppo

1. Relief Work before the Start of the Clashes
2. The Current Situation in the City and its Effect on the Christian Communities and Parishes
3. The State of the Flock and Relief Work Today

Relief Work before the Start of the Clashes

The formation of a relief committee for endangered Christians-- Homs

By decision of the bishop, a relief committee was formed out of the diocesan council in order to help meet the growing needs of our people in Homs, both those taking refuge in Aleppo and those remaining in Homs, as well as those taking refuge in the area of Marmarita, Mashta el-Helou, annd neighboring villages. The work of the committee was divided into three parts:

A. Help to Refugees in Aleppo
1. Supporting families from Homs who are now in Aleppo, providing lodging or rent support.
2. Ensuring that food supplies are distributed to families in the form of rations.
3. Ensuring medical aid to those with chronic illnesses.

B. Help to Those Remaining in Homs
With the blessing of Metropolitan Georges and in coordination with the priests, especially Fr Boutros Jamal and Fr Maksim Jamal, essential goods such as food, bedding, children's needs, clothing, as well as a shipment of medical supplies were offered. Likewise, direct material support in the form of cash was given to afflicted families in conflict zones.

C. Help to Refugees in Wadi al-Nasara
Material assistance and essential goods were ensured for areas that are overflowing with refugees, especially Marmarita, through Bishop Iliya Tomeh.

The Current Situation in the City and its Effect on the Christian Communities and Parishes

1. Loss of Security and Cutting off of Roads
Since the start of events, around a year and a half ago, the city of Aleppo has been living in a state of hesitation and caution. Explosions began to occur and the elements of security disappeared, especially on the roads. This forced us to temporarily move the location of our school into the building of the Church of Mar Elias, with a severe reduction in the number of students. As the security situation became worse, the school was completely closed in order to protect the safety of the children.

2. The Outbreak of Armed Clashes in the City
For around three and a half months, clashes have broken out in areas surrounding the city on all four sides, following conflagration in the nearby countryside. Armed protests approached densely-populated central zones. This led to the residents of these zones fleeing entirely. The refugees settled in schools, university dormitories, public gardens, or in the homes of their relatives. Initial reports estimated that more than 250 schools were housing refugees, with each school holding approximately 400 to 500 people. University dormitories are estimated to be housing 35,000 people.

3. The Start of Armed Clashes in the Neighborhood of Jdeideh
Towards the end of August, clashes reached the neighborhood of Jdeideh in the Old City of Aleppo, where the archdiocese's headquarters, most of its properties, the Church of Our Lady, and priests' homes are located. This led to the closing of the old archdiocesan headquarters, which had been used to house priests and some students, after an artillery shell fell in it, destroying its west wing and breaking windows and doors in its other parts. Another shell fell in the Church of Our Lady, which led to the destruction of the inner sanctuary, the burning and complete destruction of the electrical panel, and the breaking of glass and windows. The priests were forced to leave their homes after the neighborhood was subjected to shelling and water and electricity was cut off. We ensured that the churches were guarded and we sent away the people, Aleppine icons, the contents of the treasury, and manuscripts to secure locations. Many commercial properties in the area, including archdiosesan properties, were subject to direct attacks from bombs or vandalism.

4. Our Families Flee from the Neighborhood of al-Meidan
In the middle of September, clashes reached the neighborhood of al-Meidan, which led to the people of the area fleeing completely. Some went to coastal cities and to villages in Idlib, such as al-Jdeideh and al-Yaqoubiyya. Others went to relatives' homes in other areas of Aleppo, especially Sulaymaniyya and Suriyan. Another group took refuge in shelters set up in churches.

5. The School Year
The school year in Syria officially began on September 15. In Aleppo, however, schools did not open their doors because of the security situation. It is estimated that 70% of the city's schools did not begin classes for reasons that can be summarized as: falling within the area of clashes, lack of transportation, and the over 250 schools which house refugees.

The State of the Flock and Relief Work Today

Beginning on September 27, the severity of the clashes increased in all areas of the city and shells fell randomly on the city. Sadly, this caused many of our people to be wounded and killed, without them being involved in combat. It also caused the destruction of many homes and businesses owned by residents, most of whom are from our flock.

The Pastoral Situation: The clergy of the archdiocese have organized to serve the spiritual and material needs of those families that remain. Three churches have been closed because they are dangerous to reach and have been directly damaged. Two churches remain in service and the faithful's attendance is good, only slightly less than usual, despite the dangerous security situation and the dangers of traveling on roads, since the Church is the only remaining consolation. Pastoral work has turned completely to relief work, which is distributed in the following ways:

1. The Ecumenical Relief Committee: The Council of Religious Leaders in Aleppo has started a relief committee. Metropolitan Paul Yazigi was elected its leader. Its concern is to coordinate relief work among the churches and to create a communication network for aid. Each community designated centers for its relief activity and services that it will offer. An office for this committee was opened in the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Prophet Elias to be a center for communication between each community's relief center.

2. The Diocesan Relief Committee:
The committee for relief in the archdiocese studied the refugee situation among its flock and possibilities for aid. It decided to establish three centers the first in the Faylat neighborhood, the second in al-Suriyan in Jdeideh, and the third in the clinic "Nour el-Ehsan". It investigated providing assistance to families taking refuge within Aleppo, who are currently estimated to number 500 families. The committee undertook securing the arrival of a number of refugees, especially from the neighborhood of al-Meidan, and then the housing of refugees in diocesan halls and monasteries.

Parish councils and priests in afflicted areas were called to do a survey of the refugees' conditions and the needs of their flocks. After research, it became clear that in the area of al-Meidan alone, approximately 250 families had left, for coastal regions or the villages of Idlib, while 250 families took refuge within Aleppo in relatives' homes, and around 100 families took refuge in the archdiocese's headquarters.

The majority of families remaining within the city have taken refuge at the archdiocese's headquarters, seeking food. The relief committee investigated their situation with the priests and parish councils. Rations are provided to needy families, in addition to the 500 families to which it provides monthly assistance through the archdiocese's charitable committees.

The committee has assisted nine schools which are sheltering refugees in damaged areas, up to now. In four of them, food, medical and children's rations are being distributed, while in two medical and children's rations are distributed. Three other schools were visited and work in them was examined. During certain days of the month of Ramadan, youth from the scouts and education at the Greek Orthodox Church of the Prophet Elias offered material assistance and instruction in childcare.

Four years ago, the organization IOCC opened an office for aiding Iraqi refugees. Now, with His Beatitude's blessing and the organization's oversight, a portion of the aid was directed to lodging refugees in Aleppo, through the Patriarchate's Department of Ecumenical Relations. $20,000 was offered in assistance, according to the organization's request. 40% was distributed to public bodies and 60% was added to the work of the Archdiocese of Aleppo's relief committee for its flock. After the events in al-Meidan, the Patriarchate's relief office sent 1,000,000 Syrian lira for the work of the relief committee in Aleppo, to provide for displaced people.

3. The State of the Archdiocese's Properties: Most of the archdiocese's properties are in neighborhoods that are now closed. Thus rent cannot be collected and the archdiocese's most important sources of income have been cut off, not to mention their having been subject to damage that will make investment in them difficult in the future. Likewise, donations have severely decreased due to the departure of wealthy families.

Prices for basic goods (fuel oil, gasoline, cooking gas, water...) have risen sharply, 600%, just as prices for foodstuffs have risen sharply. The is on account of a general shutdown of the city, and securing these goods is at the mercy of the free market.

4. Movement within the City has Stopped: Movement in the city is has been completely paralyzed. Markets are almost completely closed. Likewise, government offices, which are now slowly and partially returning to work are under threat. Roads are dangerous day and night, which renders transportation almost non-existent and thus impacts our flock. Despite all attempts, activity in schools is weak. The major private schools Ecole Francaise and Icarda have closed for the current year. The number of students at other important schools has reduced.

5. Emigration: Because of the length of this troubled period, the shutdown of the city, the burning of many factories and markets, the burning down of key commercial and manufacturing zones in the city, as well as the increase in incidences of kidnapping... most families who are able to live outside Aleppo have departed to the cities and countryside of Syria, then to Lebanon, then to Europe and especially the Americas. The neighborhoods in which most of our people are found can now be described as empty. People will not return to their homes, despite the beginning of the school and university year! Wealthy families have left, while poor and middle-class families remain, in an exceptional state of unemployment and inflation.

6. Unemployment: The unemployment rate in the city has reached enormous figures due to the partial halt to work in the city for a year and a half and the complete halt for three and a half months. The sharp rise in prices and lack of goods, in addition to the cutting off of water and electricity has led to difficulty in securing the basic necessities for daily life for residents. In addition to relief activities, the archdiocese now distributes regular assistance to 500 families, including food, health products, clothing, and other necessities, as well as cash sums as direct material assistance in order to secure other necessities such as bread and medicine.

7. Events: The archdiocese has provided direct cash assistance to many families whose homes or businesses have been destroyed by direct hits from shells. This is in addition to cash assistance to families with members who have been wounded by bullets or shrapnel. It assists in paying for the exorbitant cost of operations, on account of the free government clinics' refusal to take cases and their transfer to private clinics.


Current Events in Aleppo Have Led To:

1. A Cut-off of Financing: The relief committee that was formed to provide assistance during the events in Homs relied chiefly on donations from wealthy members of the flock. However, at the start of clashes in Aleppo, most of these families departed, which has led to a lack of donations for undertaking assistance work in the city of Aleppo.

2. A Drastic Increase in the Number of Afflicted Families: The scope of events has widened to include the areas where our people live, which has led to a mass exodus, great pressure on relief centers, and a severe shortage in supplies, as their numbers are steadily increasing. The vast majority of members of the archdiocese are currently destitute and their needs are continually growing.

3. The End of the Archdiocese's Income: As the scope of events widened and reached Jdeideh, most diocesan properties-- all the shops and restaurants, in addition to the old archdiocesan headquarters and priests' homes-- have cased to function. This has completely ended the archdiocese's material income.

4. The Worsening Situation: Because of the long duration of the current situation, the bishop and the archdiocesan council are worried about falling into bankruptcy. The sums spent in relief efforts equal the total of the archdiocese's budget.

The main needs in relief work are the following:

a) Material support: There are needs for direct sums of money in the following cases:

1. Damaged homes: as a result of robbery, vandalism, and artillery strikes.

2. Wounded in need of operations: As a result of current conditions and an increase in the cost of medical treatment in private clinics.

3. Refugees: Help renting places for refugees to stay.

b) Assistance: There is a growing need for the following:

1. Food: For families who have fled their homes and poor families who have lost their breadwinners or who are facing unemployment on account of the complete shutdown of work in the city.

2. Furnishings: For families who have taken refuge in relatives' homes, as well as relief centers that are sheltering families who have involuntarily fled their homes.

3. Clothing: On account of the poverty caused by being forced to flee from conflict zones, and in relief centers. Also for schools, to continue classes.

4. Medical Supplies: Especially in emergency centers in the archdiocese, numbering three, which take in cases that cannot go to clinics or before they are transferred to clinics, and those residing in the center.

Emergency equipment: sewing kits, oxygen, and burn treatment.

Medicine: For chronic illnesses for cases in the relief centers and medicine for acute cases.

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