Aid to the Church in Need has announced a series of extra emergency aid packages for people in Syria and Iraq escaping persecution and grappling with the onset of winter. The charity is rolling out 19 relief programmes in Syria and a further 11 in Iraq - providing food, medicine, shelter and pastoral support.
The projects include extra support for families who fled ISIS in northern Iraq:
For Christians who took refuge in Baghdad, Iraq, ACN is helping to provide a nursery school for 125 toddlers. For 175 families in the Father Werenfried Village in Erbil, ACN is funding showers, washbasins and toilets.
For Christians at a displacement camp in the Iraqi capital, Baghdad, ACN is providing electricity, food and water. Also at the Baghdad displacement camp, ACN is constructing a chapel. For 182 Christian displaced families in the Archdiocese of Kirkuk and Sulaimanya, ACN is providing financial aid to help with the cost of living.
For Syria, ACN's emergency and project help include:
A car for the Sisters who run a hospital in Damascus. Six-months funding for schools in the Valley of Christians, Marmarita including teachers' costs and scholarships for school and college students.
Heaters and fuel for families displaced from Alqariatin to safe areas in Horns, Fairozah and Zaidal. Food and other basic needs for 4,500 families in Homs. The charity has been asked not to give details of amounts of aid given in case recipients are targeted.
Since the outbreak of conflict in the region, ACN has given more than £11 million for projects in Iraq and more than £7 million for help in Syria. Middle East projects coordinator Fr Andrzej Halemba said:
"The help ACN is providing for Christians in countries such as Iraq is urgently needed. The Governmental institutions are not doing what is necessary to help these communities who are struggling so much at this time. We need to remember how much Christians have contributed to society over generations and indeed centuries and now in their time of need they have been abandoned."
Reports suggest that altogether 12.2 million people are in desperate need of aid in war-torn Syria and an estimated 7.6 million are thought to be internally displaced by the conflict. Since the civil war in
Syria began in 2011, the Christian population has declined by almost two-thirds and fewer than 250,000 Christians remain in Syria today. In Iraq, 125,000 fled within two days when Daesh (ISIS) seized the northern city of Mosul in August 2014.
In the past 18 months, it has become increasingly unlikely that those internally displaced by invasion will be able to return to their homes. Stressing the importance of the aid, Neville Kyrke-Smith, National Director of Aid to the Church in Need (UK) said:
"Having just returned from the Middle East and met with Iraqi Christian refugees, I know how much the help means to them. It is the hope of Christ being offered by the friends and benefactors of ACN and we need to continue to keep hope alive this Christmas."
ACN has vowed to provide support for a number of projects in the Middle East including the provision of healthcare, reconstruction of houses and schools, food baskets and pastoral and educational work.
Thanking ACN for the support provided, Chaldean Catholic Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil stated: "Through support from the Catholic aid societies we managed to cope with some of those needs and look forward to accompany these families and provide them with decent living conditions..."
ACN is also providing aid for healthcare and medicine through project partners such as Sister Annie Demerjian. Leading a small team, Sr Annie requested more than £10,000 in aid of healthcare for medical examinations to combat both physical and mental illness.
ACN's commitment to projects supporting Christians in Iraq and Syria has also borne fruit in other unlikely ways. In October 2015, Father Jacques Mourad escaped captivity after being held by Daesh for 84 days when he was helped by a friend who had been impressed by the priest's relief work in Qaratayn, funded by charities including ACN.
Fr Mourad said: "Though undoubtedly the good I was able to do for the population, thanks also to the help of ACN, was a determining factor in my liberation. I am certain that this was one of the reasons that prevented IS from killing me."
By Claire Creegan
For more information about Aid to the Church in Need see: http://www.acnuk.org/