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Summer, 2014
Volume 40, Number 2
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In this 1996 image, children attend a festival in New York celebrating Greek heritage. (photo: Karen Lagerquist)
  
25 September 2014
Greg Kandra




An Iraqi family that fled ISIS gathers at a table in one of the refugee centers in Jordan. To read a full report on the flood of refugees pouring into Jordan, visit this link. (photo: CNEWA)



25 September 2014
J.D. Conor Mauro




As the conflict continues, 150,000 Syrians seek relief and shelter as they flee into Turkey. (video: Al Jazeera)

The Syrian front: Waiting to die in Aleppo (Der Spiegel) Eastern Aleppo has been virtually abandoned, as have most residential districts located away from the front. Those left in the city prefer to crowd into housing right up against the battle lines, which have remained virtually static in the last two years. Paradoxically, people feel safest living within range of enemy tank and sniper fire…

Armenian archbishop of Aleppo: Syrian people do not view air raids as liberation (Fides) The air raids against jihadi bases in Syria, carried out by the United States with the support of some Arab countries, do not elicit positive expectations among the population of Aleppo in Syria, who fear “this type of external involvement could worsen the situation,” said Armenian Catholic Archbishop Boutros Marayati of Aleppo…

Catholic-Orthodox commission prays for persecuted brethren (Vatican Radio) The Joint International Commission for the Theological Dialogue between the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church has released a Communiqué following the commission’s 13th plenary session, which was held in Amman, Jordan, from 15-23 Spetember 2014. In the statement, the commission expresses deep concern for and solidarity with the Christians and members of other religious traditions of the entire Middle East region who are at present suffering brutally violent persecution, and promise continued prayers for all the persecuted…

King of Jordan: Christians are a ‘constitutive’ part of the Middle East (Fides) “Let me say it once again: Arab Christians are an integral part of my region’s past, present and future,” said King Abdullah II in his speech at the 69th United Nations General Assembly…

Ukrainian president: Most fighting is over (RT) The most dangerous part of the war is on the wane, said Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko, rolling out his reform program. While setting corruption as his main target, he said the number of regular troops needs to be boosted. Poroshenko’s roadmap includes 60 reforms that should be fully implemented by 2020…



Tags: Syria Middle East Christians Ukraine Christian Unity Aleppo

24 September 2014
Greg Kandra




A cross atop a temporary building in downtown Erbil, Iraq, marks the office of Syriac Catholic Archbishop Boutros Moshe of Mosul — one of more than 130,000 Christians displaced by ISIS who are now seeking refuge in Erbil. To learn more, read the latest report on the refugee situation.
(photo: CNEWA)




24 September 2014
Greg Kandra




A man holds Argentina’s flag as Pope Francis arrives to lead his general audience in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican on 24 September. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)

New air strikes hit Iraq, Syria (USA Today) U.S. and coalition aircraft hit five targets in Iraq and Syria early Wednesday as part of the continued round of airstrikes on targets connected to the militant Islamic State terrorist organization, the U.S. Central Command reported. Meanwhile, White House National Security Adviser Susan Rice told NBC News Wednesday the White House had seen social media reports that the allied airstrikes had killed the leader of Khorasan Group terrorist organization, Muhsin al-Fadhli, although U.S. officials had not confirmed those reports...

Syrian archbishop expresses concern over U.S. air strikes (Fides) The air raids against jihadi bases in Syria, carried out by the United States with the support of some Arab countries, do not elicit positive expectations among the population of Aleppo in Syria, This was reported to Fides Agency by the Armenian Catholic Archbishop of Aleppo, Boutros Marayati, who added he is afraid “that this type of external involvement could worsen the situation...”

Pope: Albania proves that diverse religions can live in peace (CNS) People of different religious beliefs can and must live together in peace, Pope Francis said. The Muslim majority and Christian minorities in Albania cooperate beautifully for the common good and prove to the world that it can be done, he said. I could see, with great satisfaction, that the peaceful and fruitful coexistence between people and communities belonging to different religions is not only beneficial, but is concretely possible and practical. They put it into practice” in Albania, he said during his general audience on 24 September...

Gaza talks to resume in late October (Reuters) Israel and the Palestinians agreed on Tuesday to resume talks late next month on cementing a Gaza ceasefire, allowing time for Palestinian factions to resolve internal differences which could threaten the Egyptian-mediated negotiations...

Pope Francis to visit Armenia in March (Public Radio of Armenia) Pope Francis will visit Armenia in March 2015, Chancellor of the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin, His Grace Bishop Arshak Khachatrian told reporters today. He said it’s going to be both a state and religious visit. A prayer in memory of the Armenian genocide victims will be held within the framework of the visit...

NATO: Russia has withdrawn many troops from Ukraine (Wall Street Journal) A top European Union official blasted Russia for reviving threats of retaliation against Ukraine over a trade deal with the bloc, stoking political tensions even as signs mount of a military de-escalation in the conflict zone. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization said that Russia had withdrawn a sizable number of troops from eastern Ukraine—though some remained. Meanwhile Russia-backed rebels in the region said they had begun pulling back their heavy artillery, after Ukrainian troops did the same...

Patriarch: Lebanon’s Muslims and Christians share same fate (Fides) “For the good of the nation, as spiritual leaders, our duty is to protect the moral and spiritual values and the fundamental and national constitutional principles.” This is what the Patriarch of Antioch of the Maronites, Bechara Boutros Rai said after his meeting on Tuesday 23 September with the new Grand Mufti of Lebanon, Abdel Latif Derian. In statements reported by the local press, the Primate of the Maronite Church said “At a social level, muslims and Christians in Lebanon are a family with a common destiny and a common culture...”



Tags: Syria Iraq Gaza Strip/West Bank Armenia Muslim

24 September 2014
Gayane Abrahamyan




Seniors gather for lunch in Caritas Armenia’s day care center. (photo: Nazik Armenakyan)

In the Summer edition of ONE, writer Gayane Abrahamyan describes the challenges facing senior citizens in the poorest region of Armenia. Below, she offers her personal impressions of her visit to the area.

Every time I visit Gyumri, my emotions won’t let me be for days.

In the second biggest city of Armenia, I’m struck by the courage and endurance of the people. This time my visit left me with an even heavier heart as I went there to write a story about the issues of the elderly living alone.

All of them divide their lives into two chapters: before the earthquake, and after. All of them have earthquake memories; there is none among them who did not lose a child, wife, parent, friend. There is no one living a decent life: 25 years after the natural calamity turned the once beautiful and thriving city into ruins, thousands still somehow survive in rusty tin-houses, so utterly worn-out, having no bathroom and toilet facilities.

Approaching each of these houses, commonly referred to as domiks, one can’t help thinking “I wouldn’t last a half hour here.”

In these wagons — that’s what the domiks basically are — people live, have children, grow old, yet their turn on the housing list never comes. Death comes faster.

Every time I witness this, I feel the same astonishment and admiration.

My destination this day is the poorest district in Gyumri, the poorest city in Armenia; and its poorest part would be the Savoyan district. It used to be a resort and recreation area during the Soviet times, surrounded by blooming gardens and a most beautiful fountain. Savoyan is currently a domik district, more like a scrap metal dump with its rusty and tumbledown houses, dirt, litter piles everywhere and heart-breaking human glances of despair and misery.

The only thing that comes as an affirmation is the sound of children. Geghetsik Yenokian, 72, is raising her late son’s three children alone, somehow surviving on her $100 a month pension. My questions pierce her mind like nails; answers released and rushing from different corners of her memories get stuck in her throat and won’t pass through, as she fights back the unwanted tears.

The state budget has no money for these seniors; the country has not yet overcome theeconomic crisis, they say. Meanwhile, the prime minister decided to allot $310,000 from that same depleted budget to purchase two composting toilets in 2013. That money would buy at least 15 apartments in Gyumri.

There is no money in the budget, but the cabinet members needed new cars for work. In 2013 the government was considering allotting $1 million from the budget reserve fund to buy new cars.

Rita Babaian, 44, mother of three, living in Gyumri’s other Avtokayan (bus station) domik district, recalls how President Serzh Sargsyan made a pre-election visit to Gyumri in 2013. She tried to approach him and ask a housing-related question, but the bodyguards would not let her. They told her to shout the questions from where she stood.

“They said ‘shout, and if you are lucky, he will approach’,” she says and mocks: “I was not lucky.”

“They are simply afraid to look into our eyes, afraid to see that we have run out of patience.”



23 September 2014
Michael J.L. La Civita




An independent Catholic family foundation, Raskob, has awarded Catholic Near East Welfare Association an emergency grant to assist the agency in opening two additional medical clinics serving Iraqi Christian refugees in Iraqi Kurdistan. According to CNEWA’s partners on the ground, the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena and the Syriac Catholic Archbishop Boutros Moshe of Mosul, there are pressing health concerns for the 4,530 Iraqi Christian refugee families living temporarily in the cities of Dohuk and Zahko.

With fears of cholera and typhus, volunteer doctors are inoculating children in a makeshift dispensary in Erbil. Thanks to CNEWA’s benefactors, three more suitable clinics will open to serve better the needs of Iraqi Christian refugees. (photo: CNEWA)

The Dominican Sisters will administer the clinics day-to-day, as with CNEWA’s clinic taking shape now in Erbil. The sisters are coordinating their efforts with the Chaldean and Syriac priests responsible for relief efforts in Dohuk and Zahko, respectively.

The clinics will be staffed by volunteer doctors, Christians displaced from the city of Qaraqosh, and will provide quality care for chronic ailments and medical emergencies. Health care in Iraqi Kurdistan is largely private and cost prohibitive for the refugees, who fled their homes with nothing.

The emergency grant will help set up four examination rooms; install two bathrooms; waterproof a tent to serve as a waiting room; and provide medical equipment, such as an ultrasound machine, eye pressure meter, electrocardiograph, birthing and dental chairs, and other tools and equipment.

Members of CNEWA’s team in Beirut, who are making regular visits to Iraqi Kurdistan, are monitoring the implementation of the clinics.



Tags: Iraq Iraqi Christians Health Care Iraqi Refugees Relief

23 September 2014
Michel Constantin




Iraqi refugees gather outside a makeshift dispensary in Erbil. (photo: CNEWA)

The Christian Presence in Iraq

The Iraqi Christian community, perhaps the oldest in the world, has survived more than 1400 years under Islamic rule in its homeland. During the first 500 years of the golden age of Islam, the Christians participated and shared in the shaping of the most advanced civilization of its time. Then, during the downfall period under the barbarian invasion of the Mongols in 1258, followed by the Ottomans and different brutal military invasions and occupations, the Christians remained in their homelands continuously, sometimes in harmony and many times in fear with their Muslim neighbors.

Unfortunately, the Christians could not hold on and support the last wave of modern Islamization. The brutality of ISIS militants and the marketing of this brutality over social media succeeded in creating shock and terror among all minorities of northern Iraq. On 6 August, the Christian presence in Mosul and Nineveh plain faded completely along with their trust in the international community and Baghdad and Kurdish governments, the latter of which withdrew their forces from the Christian towns over night, leaving more than 130,000 Christians without any kind of protection and subject to the brutality of unmerciful militants.

Lacking options and weapons to defend themselves, all Christian inhabitants fled to save their lives and those of their children. At midnight, they left with few garments and headed further north to find shelter in the Kurdish territories. Some drove through the desert for many hours to avoid military confrontation and ISIS checkpoints, other slacking the means of transportation had to walk for more than ten hours before reaching safe areas. Children, elderly, and all families found themselves helpless and alone under the burning sun of August, where the temperature reaches 48 degrees Celsius (118 Fahrenheit). The Kurdish government provided them with only permission to stay in their territories safely; besides security, nothing was available. The only shelters they had were the backyards of the churches and some unfinished commercial centers transformed into temporary camps with primitive textile partitioning.

The Christians of the Nineveh Plain were considered the elite of the Iraqi population in the north, largely because of their education, occupying the best positions in the majority of skilled fields requiring advanced educations. They were counted among the best medical doctors, the best teachers, the best engineers, etc. They believed they could make a difference and worked hard from one generation to another to create a more open society where an individual is accepted and respected for what he is and not for his religious beliefs. Unfortunately, their efforts did not yield positive results, and the people with whom they lived for over 1400 years decided to attack them and force them to either convert to Islam or leave. There is little surprising about their collective decision to leave.

Refugees gather inside the temporary dispensary to receive medical care. (photo: CNEWA)

CNEWA Representatives Visit to Iraq — 2-5 September, 2014

Since the early days of the displacement, CNEWA’s Beirut office has been in continuous contact with the local church in Erbil and with the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena, showing solidarity and figuring out the best ways to accompany them and help reducing the suffering of refugees.

On 2 September, a delegation from Beirut composed of Michel Constantin and Imad Abou Jaoude, representing CNEWA, and Sister Marie Claude Naddaf from the Good Shepherd Sisters, representing all the female congregations in Lebanon, headed to Erbil to better understand the humanitarian situation and to get in direct contact with the local church people who are involved in reaching out for the refugees.

Our activities during this visit could be summarized as such:

  1. We first met with the Syriac Catholic Archbishop Boutros Moshe of Mosul, who himself was displaced from Qaraqosh with more than 130,000 Christians of all denominations from nine villages and towns in the Nineveh Plain.

    To get to the archbishop’s office in Martha Shmouny Center in the quarter of Ain Kawa, a neighborhood of Erbil initially inhabited by Christians, we passed through a large crowd mainly composed of children with their mothers waiting for their turn to get a vaccine from a field dispensary set up in a small tent where doctors — themselves also displaced from the hospital in Qaraqosh — were providing medical services to hundreds of Christian refugees.

    The archbishop received us in a steel container located in the front yard of his church in Erbil. Three priests helped him to register the displaced families. The archbishop explained to us that the most urgent need at present is to provide a primary health care center.

    We visited the dispensary outside the displacement center and met with the Rev. Behnam Benoka, a Syriac Catholic priest in charge of the dispensary. Father Benoka explained that at present, there are only two dispensaries taking care of the Christian refugees; the first one is called Habib al Maleh — a private dispensary, run by a Chaldean director, and supported by the Kurdish government. The second is an on-site dispensary installed during the first days of displacement inside a tent on the sidewalk outside Martha Shmouny Center. Fifty staff members operate the facility, all of them displaced and volunteering their expertise and time for free. Among the volunteers are 15 medical doctors from the hospital in Qaraqosh, in addition to 15 medical assistants and 20 volunteers.

    The dispensary receives an average of 500 patients every day and provides vaccinations for the children. The patients are from all displacement centers of Erbil.

    An empty garage has been turned into living quarters for refugees. (photo: CNEWA)

    The urgent need at present is to extend the dispensary by providing four prefab rooms and a large new tent to serve as a reception area. Each room will serve as a clinic for one doctor according to each specialty — internal medicine, pediatric, gynecology, ophthalmology, etc. — and will be equipped with the basic needed equipment. The dispensary will be located in the front yard of the displacement center of the Syriac Catholic Church. Martha Shmouny will provide services all over the day and the doctors will be shifting to cover the needs of all patients.

    Regarding the second major problem that they have which is the provision of proper shelter for the displaced people, Archbishop Moshe informed us that a commercial building called Ain Kawa Mall was put by the owner under the disposition of the refugees, to be partitioned to shelter 100 families on each of three large unfinished floors. We visited the location and met with the contractor who was assigned by UNHCR to prepare the first floor.

    The cost of each floor is estimated at U.S. $150,000 — or an average of $1,500 to shelter one family — including a collective sanitary bloc and a common cooking area.

    The total cost of partitioning the two floors to accommodate 200 additional families is estimated at $300,000.

  2. Then we visited the Redemptorist Chaldean Archbishop Bashar Wardah of Erbil and Chaldean Archbishop Emile Shimoun Nona of Mosul at the Chaldean Archbishopric of Erbil, also located in Ain Kawa. Archbishop Bashar of Erbil informed us that the food rations, water tanks and mobile toilets will be ensured through the donation of the central government of Baghdad. He is in charge of communicating with the government on behalf of all the refugees.

    He also emphasized on the urgent need to provide primary health care and to find shelter for families living in the backyards of churches. The families without shelter are estimated at around 1,500 families.

    Archbishop Bashar also informed us that, through his connections with the Kurdish government, two large storage hangars have been made available to the refugees. We visited the location with the archbishops and inspected the potential shelter. Each hangar can be partitioned into 25 private rooms, and each room is large enough to accommodate two families, the sanitary block could be ensured through the mobile toilets and showers provided by the government of Baghdad. The cost of partitioning of each warehouse is estimated at around $45,000 to $50,000.

  3. We then visited a number of religious congregations working with the refugees in their convents. We visited the Chaldean Daughters of Mary, the Chaldean Sacred Heart Sisters and the Syriac Catholic Ephremite Sisters. The next day, at the patriarchal Chaldean seminary in Ain Kawa, we met all 32 sisters and priests who were displaced with their people. They are presently very active in reaching out for the refugees in all the settlements. The meeting was the first of its kind and every sister and father was pointing out the different difficulties facing their daily work with the refugees. This meeting was very important and gave us the broader vision for the needs assessment and the priorities.

Sister Maria Goretti Hanna, O.P., and Good Shepherd Sister Marie-Claude Naddaf meet refugees in Erbil, Iraq, during a visit earlier this month. (photo: CNEWA)

Needs Assessment

First of all, it is very important to mention that the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena are providing a real witness of accompanying the poor in their daily sufferings and remaining with them through every step of their walk on this unprecedented crisis.

Among all the sad stories and the uncertainty of all the refugee families, I saw a shining light through the common life of the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine, and all the sisters living among the families. It was really a remarkable situation, where the poor help the poor and refugee reaches out to refugee. The solidarity among the different congregations is so strong that the superior general of the congregation has prepared in the backyard of the convent a place to install prefab rooms to accommodate all the refugee sisters, regardless of congregation. And in the morning the sisters, along with the brothers from the Congregation of Jesus the Redeemer, would leave two by two — like the apostles — to serve in the displacement centers.

As for the needs of the refugees, it is very difficult to prioritize the needs as they are living on the streets and are practically in need of everything.

Following are the needs by sector:

  1. Capacity building and coordination efforts: Despite all the good intentions, we felt that both the people and the churches are still dealing with the situation as a temporary one. They are still in shock, waiting for a miracle to happen or to wake up from the nightmare and to resume their lives as though nothing had happened. During the meeting, we shared with them our experiences in Syria and advised them that as long as time passes, the difficulties will increase and the needs and the sufferings will be greater. For all these reasons it is very important to coordinate the efforts, and to come up with a plan for the needs of the refugees and to address the world accordingly.

  2. Shelter: The majority of the displaced Christian families are currently living either in schools or in tents outside the church properties of Ain Kawa and Erbil. This situation cannot continue indefinitely; by mid-September, the great majority of the families living in the schools will have to evacuate. The Kurdish Authority has already sent warning notes, and some schools were evacuated during our visit.

    In the absence of any statistical effort, we estimate the number of families living in tents and in schools at around 2,500 to 3,000 families in Erbil only. Archbishop Emile of Mosul informed us that the worst refugee conditions are in Erbil, since in the northern cities of Duhok and Zakho and in Suleimaniyah most of the refugees are either living with their relatives or have rented small apartments and are sharing them with other families.

    It is to be mentioned that the rent cost in Erbil, and especially in the Christian neighborhood of Ain Kawa, is very high and is estimated at an average of $1,500 per month for a two-bedroom apartment.

  3. Health: The issue of health care is very important, as a good proportion of refugees used to rely on a public insurance system provided by the central government of Baghdad, especially for public employees. This system is not applicable in the Kurdish territories, and private medical care is extremely expensive. Therefore the local dispensaries that provide primary health care and on-site medical services are extremely important for the lives of the refugees.

  4. Education: The problem with the education issue goes beyond the scarcity of enrollment openings in the Kurdish schools. There are also cultural barriers, since the curriculum taught in the Kurdish schools relies on the Kurdish language, while all Christian students used to rely on the Arabic as the first language in their curriculum.

  5. Employment: A good proportion of Christian refugees used to work for the government, either as teachers, doctors, engineers, or workers in the oil sector or industries owned by the Iraqi government. All these employees used to get their salaries from the central bank branch of Mosul. Since the invasion of Mosul in June 2014,employees could not retrieve their salaries. Even at present in Erbil, the lack of trust between the Iraqi Kurdish authorities and the Iraqi central government in Baghdad, and the lack of any mechanism to transfer the salaries to Erbil, has left refugees without any source of income.

    Moreover, because of the crisis in Syria and the displacement of large numbers of Syrian Kurds to Erbil, Syrian Kurds became the priority in private and public employment at the expense of the Christian Iraqis.

  6. Food and essentials: At present, food and other critical supplies are provided through local donations and the Christian funds available by the central government and the Ministries of Religious Affairs and the Emigration. Archbishop Bashar Wardah is leading the efforts and has been successful.

  7. Winter items: The weather in Kurdistan is dry and arid desert weather, where the temperature in summer reaches around 50 degrees Celsius (122 degrees Fahrenheit) and in winter falls drops to freezing from November until early March. Therefore, enduring the winter will require wool blankets in addition to winter clothing — especially for children — in addition to heating fuel and heaters.

  8. Spiritual and trauma healing support: Many of the families found themselves, in a blink of an eye, losing everything. Many who were well off in their homelands found themselves on the streets. In order to maintain their hope and their faith, huge efforts must be exerted to support all the local churches and religious people to maintain their activities and to provide the families with psychological support. This holds especially for mothers, on an individual and collective basis, to help them accept their new situation while waiting for a solution and end to their problems.

Recommendations

  1. Start with establishing a good, well-equipped dispensary in Erbil that could enhance the efforts of the volunteer staff and improve the quality of the services provided to the displaced families. The tent currently used as a dispensary suffers insufficient sanitation and ventilation, especially in Iraq under the extreme weather conditions.

  2. Help Archbishop Moshe to establish a small center for people with special needs in the multipurpose hall.

  3. Help the sisters in their efforts to provide basic necessities for newborn children — a need not yet covered by any donors — and to purchase some underwear items for children as well as some basic urgent needs.

CNEWA has already started implementing this phase in coordination with the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena and Syriac Catholic Father Behnam Benoka. For this purpose, CNEWA has allocated the amount of $75,000. A first payment has been already transferred to the sisters’ account as of 9 September.

As for later phases, they will be elaborated during further visits and through continuous consultation with our church partners.



Tags: Iraq Iraqi Christians Iraqi Refugees Relief

23 September 2014
Greg Kandra




The book of the Gospels is seen during during an ecumenical prayer service for Middle Eastern peace in Washington on 9 September. (photo: CNS/Tyler Orsburn)

What does it mean to defend Christians in the Middle East? This week, National Catholic Reporter explores that question — and gets some answers from CNEWA:

As many minority Christians in the region — already buffeted by decades of social marginalization and political instability and experiencing a historic bottoming out of their ranks — now face barbaric forms of persecution in places like Iraq and Syria, the questions have taken on a newfound significance. The issue has become all the more important here in America, where the effort to raise public awareness of their plight is still in its nascency (and susceptible to political opportunism), and the nation is, again, on the brink of war.

Interviews with experts — and the words of Middle East Christians themselves — suggest two answers. The first has to do with the legacy of Christians in the region.

“The center of the church in its formative years was in the area we now call the Middle East,” said the Catholic Near East Welfare Association’s Michael La Civita. He called the Christian presence in the Middle East “absolutely vital” to the development of both Eastern and Western civilization.

“So many of the great works of our classical Greco-Roman heritage would have been lost, but they were preserved by the Eastern churches, by the monasteries,” La Civita said. “The monks were scholars, they preserved books, transcribed them into Copt, Syriac and Armenian,” ancient languages still spoken by Middle East Christians today. “With the advent of Islam, the various Muslim courts appropriated the services of these Christians. They gave to the Muslim Arabs geometry and astronomy, and classical philosophy, all of which then the Muslim Arabs brought back to us, through Sicily and Spain.”

Asked what the loss of the Christian presence would mean to Christianity, La Civita said: “Culturally, liturgically, it would be a great loss to the church of Christ if its Eastern roots were severed. It would be a tremendous loss — a tremendous loss.”

There’s much more. Read it all at the NCR link.



Tags: CNEWA Middle East Christians

23 September 2014
J.D. Conor Mauro




Lt. General William C. Mayville Jr. speaks about the bombing campaign in Syria, on 23 September in Washington, DC. (photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

U.S. airstrikes expand to Syrian city of Aleppo (Los Angeles Times) Even as it launched sweeping new airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Syria, the U.S. military said Tuesday that it had expanded the campaign to the northern Syrian city of Aleppo, targeting an offshoot of Al Qaeda said to be plotting “imminent” attacks against American and Western targets. A total of eight U.S. air attacks carried out in Syria’s largest city were aimed at the Khorasan Group, described in a U.S. Central Command statement as an organization of Al Qaeda veterans. The Aleppo campaign marked an expansion of the bombing effort launched initially against strongholds of the Islamic State in eastern Syria, conducted by U.S. planes, drones and ships with the help of five Arab nations. The strikes indicate that the U.S. air campaign in Syria has broader objectives than going after the Islamic State, the target of the attacks in eastern Syria…

Do Syrians support U.S. airstrikes in Syria? (Al Monitor) As a wary United States Congress passed a resolution authorizing the president to arm Syrian rebels against the Islamic State (IS), and as U.S. military planners consider airstrikes against IS in Syria, Al Monitor’s Syria Pulse covered how Syrians, suffering from more than three years of war, might react. Khaled Attalah reports from Damascus that Syrians there prefer a political solution to the war rather than U.S. airstrikes. Attalah writes, “After mobilizing its allies from around the world, the White House hopes that by using force and launching airstrikes, the IS threat will disappear. However, the Syrian people are not only hoping to be rid of this terrorist group, but also the bloody bottleneck they have been living through for more than three years.” Reporting from the Al Bab region, an IS stronghold east of Aleppo, Al Monitor columnist Edward Dark writes that the prospect of U.S. airstrikes is being greeted with more anxiety than enthusiasm, and could redound to the advantage of IS…

Iraq’s minorities demand weapons, training (Al Monitor) Following the huge regression in the situation of Iraq’s minorities after IS took control of many of the regions where they reside, these groups — including Christian and Yazidi populations — were left with no choice but to call for being armed and trained to protect themselves from the attacks they have witnessed from extremists. This call has not been limited to arming a specific minority, but rather became a mass call advocated by leaders, political parties, activists and individuals in various ways…

Abbas to reveal plan at U.N. to end occupation (Al Jazeera) This week Palestinian officials are busy working on different diplomatic tracks to push forward a new proposal at the United Nations to end Israel’s occupation, work on internal divisions, and hold talks with Israel on cementing a truce in the besieged Gaza Strip. These efforts are taking place in Cairo starting Tuesday, and at the United Nations in New York City throughout the week, as the General Assembly gathers for its 69th session to discuss a wide range of issues; from Syria and Iraq to the Ebola crisis…

Ukraine rebels withdraw artillery (Vatican Radio) Ukraine’s government says its forces and pro-Russian separatists have begun withdrawing heavy artillery in the east of the country as part of efforts to implement a still shaky ceasefire. The withdrawal comes amid pressure on Ukraine’s president and concerns that the country will receive less support from a key ally…

Pope: Respond to ‘globalization of migration’ with ‘globalization of charity’ (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis calls for “more decisive and constructive action” to deal with the phenomenon of migration, saying this will lead to “greater effectiveness in the fight against the shameful and criminal trafficking of human beings, the violation of fundamental rights, and all forms of violence, oppression and enslavement…”

Islamists destroy Armenian Genocide Memorial Church in Deir Ezzor (PanArmenian.net) The Islamic State has destroyed the Armenian Genocide Memorial Church in Deir Ezzor, Syria, news agencies in the Middle East reported, according to The Armenian Weekly. Armenian Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian issued a statement condemning the destruction of the church, calling it a “horrible barbarity…”



Tags: Syria Iraq Syrian Civil War Ukraine Palestine

22 September 2014
Ra’ed Bahou




CNEWA is partnering with the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary, such as Sister Antoinette, shown here on the left distributing clothes to Iraqi refugees. (photo: CNEWA)

In spite of the lack of resources, Jordanians are still receiving Iraqi Christian refugees. Our team in Amman has visited the many parish centers housing these families. Here is what we have learned:

  • At the beginning, the Jordanian government granted visas for 1,000 Christians to flee to Jordan in agreement with the churches. But now the door is open, and many more are arriving every day. There are seven church centers full of Iraqis with no room to accommodate more; therefore, many have no choice but to rent a house or stay on the streets, knowing that houses are not easy to find, and rents are very expensive even for locals. So, you find more than one family living in a house of two bedrooms — up to 20 people sharing the space and paying rent that exceeds $700 per month. Most of the rented houses are empty (cheaper than furnished); we saw Iraqis sleeping on a thin mattress or on the ground.
  • The centers, mainly the halls of the churches, are not designed to host people. All were designed to serve the parishioners’ multipurpose activities. It’s not a proper place to host a large number of people. Also, facilities (such as bathrooms) are not available in the halls. Most showers and kitchens were built outside. Refugees have to walk in an uncovered area and wait in line; it will only get worse when winter comes.
Many refugees are crowded into small spaces, with little privacy. (photo: CNEWA)

  • Parishes were so kind to receive the Iraqis at their churches’ halls — sacrificing the income they receive from renting out the halls, which helps pay for salaries and bills of the parishes. But the parishes still have to face unexpected expenses without any idea of how long this situation will last or how they will meet their expenses.
  • Most of the parishes are poor, especially the ones located in major centers like Ashrafiyeh and Zerqa. They don’t have enough resources to rehabilitate and maintain their facilities. During our visit, we noticed damages to infrastructure due to the humidity, with leaking roofs, broken windows, no bathrooms or showers. Parish centers also need water tanks, stoves, large refrigerators, kitchens, and kitchen supplies, heaters, blankets, mattresses, etc.
Sister Antoinette and parish volunteers help distribute mattresses — gifts from CNEWA’s benefactors — to newly arrived refugees. (photo: CNEWA)
  • Another issue facing the Iraqis hosted by churches is the matter of privacy, especially for the women who are sharing space with too many people, along with one or two bathrooms and showers.
  • All Iraqis who recently arrived — whether staying at centers or houses — are suffering from stress. They have lost trust in everyone. And they need everything, from personal items to food, medicines and medical treatment, milk and diapers for children. Many are worried about their relatives, who couldn’t leave Iraq, and they told us very depressing and heartbreaking stories about their fleeing from Da’ash (ISIS).
  • We asked the Iraqis how they felt about going back to Iraq, if it became peaceful and safe again. The answer was no, never.
  • When refugees arrive, they contact the United Nations. The U.N. starts gathering the individuals’ information in order to prepare a file, and then hands each family a refugee document — a separate document for each son and daughter older than 18. Their next meeting is to take place four to six months after they arrive. Those who were in the first wave will have their second meeting in December 2014.

CNEWA has responded to these needs with an initial disbursement of $72,500 in funds to five parish centers. Among other things, the funds are providing water, electricity, food, clothing, health care and psychological treatment to refugees.

The need remains great. Please visit our giving page to learn how you can help these refugees.

This young father was beaten and his leg smashed by ISIS before he was able to flee to Jordan.
(photo: CNEWA)








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