Syria’s 2.3 million Christians in refugee crisis; will Europe help them?

September 17, 2012 by  
Filed under Asia, newsletter-world, Persecution, Syria

A destroyed church building in Homs, Syria

A destroyed church building in Homs, Syria

Syria, September 13, 2012: The conflict in Syria has precipitated a major refugee crisis on the EU’s doorstep: endangered Christians are resorting to desperate means of escaping their war-torn country, putting themselves into the hands of human traffickers to get to safety. Will EU countries open their borders to help them?

There are 2.3 million Christians in Syria, and many of them want to leave as conditions in the country deteriorate and threats against them intensify. Essentials such as water, food, electricity and petrol are in short supply, and Christians are increasingly being targeted by the opposition forces, who perceive them as being pro-Assad.

Tens of thousands of Syrians have fled to neighbouring Lebanon, but as the conflict between supporters and opponents of President Assad spills over that border, alternative places of refuge are being sought.

Hundreds of Christian families have gone to Greece, putting themselves into the hands of human traffickers and enduring treacherous journeys to get there via Turkey. All borders intoTurkey are now controlled by the Free Syrian Army, who do not permit Christians to cross; they are told:

You are with Assad. You can stay here and be killed with him.

The Syrians are ultimately trying to get to another European country, chiefly Sweden or Germany, where many have relatives. The traffickers are exploiting their desperation, demanding thousands of Euros – typically €4,000 for adults, €2,000 for children – for the onward journey.

Some Christian refugees have almost died en route to Greece. One 30-year-old man was transported along with 22 other people in an inflatable boat designed for only six to eight people. It almost collapsed and sank twice.

Another Christian man, aged 27, ran into a sewerage piping system filled with waste in a bid to escape the Turkish police, who subsequently caught and beat him. He eventually made it to Greece, on a dangerous boat trip during which the inadequate vessel capsized. In Greece, he has been beaten up by a group of attackers who are believed to belong to a political party that is extremely hostile to foreigners and immigrants.

Some of the Christian refugees have sold all their possessions to pay the traffickers. Others who cannot afford the fee are attempting to walk, such is their determination to escape Syria.

One desperate father, who managed to get his family of ten to Greece, is now planning to send his 18-year-old daughter, daughter-in-law and grandchild with traffickers to another European country. He is extremely concerned about what may happen to his loved ones, and fears that they could even be sold into the sex trade, but feels he has no other choice.

The Christians do not feel safe in Greece and cannot afford to live there with its crippled economy and high prices.

The World Council of Arameans (WCA), which has been monitoring the movement of Syrian Christians, said:

Many of them left Syria because they felt threatened and intimidated, they did not wish to fight in this war and others fled from the fear of a bleak future. What is clear is that the hell which they felt in Syria is now somewhat mirrored in the Diaspora… Many stay in dismal and depressing situations, afraid to leave their new homes, hoping not to be robbed, arrested or forced back to Syria.

The plight of 2.3 million Christians in Syria can no longer be ignored by the international community. And as the US, UK and other Western powers increase their support for the Syrian opposition, it is imperative that they consider the implications of this for the country’s Christians. If the Assad regime falls, it seems likely that Christians will be facing a similar scenario to that of their counterparts in Iraq following the removal of Saddam Hussein. Islamist militants there made it very clear that Christians were not welcome, subjecting their communities to relentless violence; hundreds of thousands of Christians have consequently been forced to flee.

Where are 2.3 million Syrian Christians going to go? With many surrounding nations in a state of instability, not to mention overtly Islamist, Syrian Christians are praying that EU countries open their borders to receive them. The WCA is also calling for the provision of humanitarian aid and legal assistance for Syrian Christian refugees arriving in Greece.

– barnabas team

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