More than 300,000 Christians have fled their villages and towns to escape the war, but also UN refugee camps, said Issam Bishara, regional director of the Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA) in Lebanon, Egypt, Syria and Iraq.
Speaking to SC, he said that none of the displaced families is in UN refugee camps in Turkey and Jordan, where displaced people are registered as rebels and used for photo ops.
“In Lebanon, about 1,200 families have found shelter with friends or relatives,” Bishara said. In fact, most Christians are not on the lists of the High Commissioner for the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR). They refuse to be identified as part of the mostly Sunni opposition.
Christians prefer to be neutral, above the conflict between Muslim rebels and Bashar al-Assad’s Alawis. For this reason, they have been surviving without any substantial aid from major donors like the UNHCR and the Red Cross. Still, “They they need everything,” Bishara explained. “The only support they get is from CNEWA.”
Most Christian families who fled to Lebanon belong to the Armenian Catholic Church in Aleppo or the Greek Catholic community in Homs and Qasayr.
Some 500 Armenian Catholic families found refuge with the Christian communities in Bourj Hammoud near Beirut.
Some 550 Greek Catholic families from Al-Quasyr and Homs fled to Zhale and Qaa in the Bekaa Valley where Caritas Lebanon and other Christian organisations are active.
Bkerke, the seat of the Maronite Patriarchate, opened its doors to 75 families Syro-Catholic families from Homs. Another 75 Syriac Orthodox families settled in Ajaltoun convent on Mount Lebanon.
However, as time goes by, “host families do not have enough resources to help Syrian refugees,” the CNEWA director noted. By contrast, “requests are increasing day by day. Soon no one will be able to afford even the most basic aid.”
After two years of turmoil, the conflict between the regime and the opposition has turned into a full-blown civil war. Army deserters and Islamist militants have formed armed groups that have been able to take on Bashar al-Assad’s forces.
The clash between Alawis and Sunnis has attracted fighters from the Middle East and North Africa. Even Europeans are said to be fighting with jihadist movements active in the area.
Christians in Syria fear they might suffer the fate of Iraqi Christian communities that have become the target of Islamic extremists.
Since 2003, Islamists have targeted minority Christians with murder, attacks and various forms of discrimination, forcing hundreds of thousands of families to leave their country forever.