The Syrian conflict already responsible for a reported 80,000 deaths since March 2011 is now even more dire. Shiite fighters from the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah are becoming more active on the side of President Bashar Assad. Refugees continue to flee their homes for the overcrowded havens of Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt. And Syrian Christians worry what the collapse of the state government means for their freedom and place in Syrian society.
The U.N. Refugee Agency reported in May that more than 1.5 million Syrians have fled the conflict emanating from the Arab Spring. That number is expected to increase by 30 percent by the end of June. And it’s a drop in the bucket compared with the more than 4 million Syrians displaced within the country and the nearly 7 million in need of humanitarian assistance.
The Associated Press reported May 20 that the international aid organization Oxfam is appealing for more funds to help refugees combat increased health risks due to warmer weather. Measles and diarrhea are spreading, turning refugee camps into public health hazards — not to mention hotbeds of crime.
And while many refugees — mostly women and children — have escaped violence from their country’s civil war, they have hardly found a safe haven. The BBC reported in May that reports have surfaced in Jordan of families selling their daughters into marriage in order to obtain money for food and shelter. Other women are turning to “survival sex.”
Syrian Christians, too, have reason to be worried. In a statement last July, Patriarch Gregory III Laham, spiritual leader of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church, identified that group as “the weakest link” of society and the “most vulnerable to exploitation, extortion, kidnapping, abuse.” Indeed, a month after their kidnapping, the whereabouts of two Syrian Orthodox Christian bishops remain unknown.
If events in Egypt serve as a marker, the road won’t get any easier. Tensions between Coptic Christians and Sunni Muslims only have escalated since President Hosni Mubarak was overthrown and replaced by Mohammed Morsi, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood. A video released in late April shows Egyptian police idly standing by while a Coptic cathedral was attacked during a funeral.
While there is no magical solution to these age-old conflicts, there is common sense. Syria does not need more weapons — whether from Russia to Assad or from the West to the opposition forces. More weapons lead to more death, and more death is not the answer. There is also financial aid. Multiple humanitarian groups like CRS Middle East are in ever escalating need of donations so they can provide emergency medical care, food and basic comforts to the displaced Syrians. And there are also our daily, committed prayers for dialogue and for peace.
On Easter Sunday, Pope Francis prayed for Jesus to change “hatred into love, vengeance into forgiveness, war into peace” — especially in “dear Syria, for its people torn by conflict and for the many refugees who await help and comfort.”
The appeal for peace echoed those of his predecessors — both Pope Benedict XVI’s many poignant pleas for peace in Syria and Blessed John Paul II’s words during his visit to that country in May 2001. His pilgrimage, he said, was “an ardent prayer of hope … that among the peoples of the region fear will turn to trust and contempt to mutual esteem, that force will give way to dialogue and that a genuine desire to serve the common good will prevail.” Amen.