02 May 2017

Families in Syria repairing damaged homes and starting new businesses

Despite enduring over six years of war, some of Syria’s displaced Christians are returning to their towns and repairing their homes, and others are starting new businesses, with support from anti-persecution charity Open Doors.

In Maaloula, a small town 30 miles from Damascus, Open Doors has worked through local partners to help four families to return and repair their homes, and is in the process of helping others do the same. Almost 3,000 people lived in Maaloula before the war in Syria began, most of them Christians, but the town was occupied by fundamentalist Muslim group al-Nusra, forcing almost all of the inhabitants to flee their homes. The militants no longer occupy the town, but many homes were damaged in the fighting, and every church has been burned or vandalised.

Peter*, who is coordinating this project, says, "During my last visit in the beginning of 2017 I was very happy to see the first families who returned to Maaloula. We have invested in restoring houses; now the first four of these houses are inhabited again. In the coming weeks I expect the other houses to be finished too."

Gradually, the infrastructure in Maaloula is also being restored. "A bakery opened its doors again, also the pharmacy and even a bookshop. The government has invested in repairing the streets; this also was an encouragement for the displaced to return. Everywhere you go, you see villagers cleaning in and around their houses, clear signs of more people returning to their homes.”

In Homs, Open Doors partners have opened a furniture factory, which is providing work for 30 people, including Milad. He had his leg amputated after being injured by a car bomb, and was unemployed for 18 months before finding work at the factory as an accountant.

Milad says, “I thank Open Doors for giving me the chance to work again in this project of the church, because I can't work in any other place because of my health situation. I would love to stay in my country and I have big hopes for tomorrow that our country will be better than before."

Syria is number 6 on the 2017 Open Doors World Watch List. Open Doors works through local partners to provide relief aid to tens of thousands of displaced Christians, alongside long-term support such as providing training and trauma counselling.

Open Doors has launched the Hope for the Middle East campaign, a global, seven-year campaign mobilising Christians around the world to stand with the church in the Middle East. As part of this, Open Doors is asking people to sign the One Million Voices of Hope petition, which will be presented to the UN in December 2017. The petition calls for equality, dignity and responsibility for Christians and other minorities in Syria and Iraq, the key things Christians and church leaders from these nations have said they want for the future.

Photos of people who are receiving help to rebuild their homes in Maaloula – available in bigger sizes:

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Photo of furniture factory - available in larger size:

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Note to editors:

For more information call the Open Doors press office on 01993 777377, 01993 777346 or 07484 000 441, or email Tania at taniac@opendoorsuk.org or Beth at bethf@opendoorsuk.org

Information on Open Doors - www.opendoorsuk.org

Open Doors UK & Ireland is part of Open Doors International, a global NGO network which has supported and strengthened persecuted Christians in over 60 countries for over 60 years. Last year it raised approximately $70 million to provide practical support to persecuted Christians such as food, medicines, trauma care, legal assistance, safe houses and schools, as well as spiritual support through Christian literature, training and resources. Open Doors UK & Ireland raised over £11 million.

Every year Open Doors publishes the World Watch List - a ranking of the 50 countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian. This is produced using detailed information provided by Open Doors co-workers in more than 60 countries, as well as independent experts. Data is gathered on five spheres of life - private, family, community, national and church life - plus a sixth sphere measuring the degree of violence impacting Christians. Persecution in each country is recorded by Open Doors using a point system. Open Doors' research methods and results have been independently audited by the International Institute for Religious Freedom. The 2017 World Watch List accounts for the 12 months ending 31 October 2016.

The Open Doors World Watch List is the only instrument that measures the persecution of Christians annually. Its methodology is designed to track how the exercise of the Christian faith gets squeezed in five distinct areas - private life, family life, community life, national life and church life - as well as covering violence such as rapes, killings and church burnings. Dr. Ronald Boyd-MacMillan, Director of Research at Open Doors International, explains why: "It is possible for persecution to be so intense in all areas of life that Christians fear to witness at all. You may find very low levels of violence as a result, because incidents of violent persecution are often a response to acts of witness."