28 June 2017

Six years on - what is life really like inside Syria?

Six years of vicious war is taking its toll on Syrians. Areas that have been relatively peaceful (by Syrian standards) have suddenly deteriorated such as Damascus and Daraa. People who have resolutely tried to stay in their homes have finally given in and been forced to flee.

People like Iman, an internally displaced woman referred to by residents of Jibrin (in Syria) as 'the mother whose children died'. Her son didn't die because of shooting or bombing, as one might expect. Her little boy died because of hunger. The family lived in a suburb of of Aleppo that was under siege for about six months. In that period there was a big lack of food. Iman said: "My oldest child, a boy, was five-years-old. After a while, my children began looking like small skeletons. I wanted to flee. We did, but my husband was shot by a sniper in his feet. He was taken to hospital, and since then I haven't heard from him anymore. I don't know if he is alive or not. One day, I was crying about the loss of my husband with my son in my arms. The boy, who suffered from malnutrition, suddenly died. I cried and cried and beat myself. I felt a great pain in my chest." Soon after, her oldest child died.

In Daraa, south Syria, fighting has recently broken out between rebels and the government forces. There are about 300 Christian families in Daraa receiving monthly food parcels that Open Doors is providing through local churches. However the last delivery was late, as last month it was impossible for the pastor to go to Daraa to do the distribution - he was threatened by extremists because of his activities.

The conflict has also caused economic chaos. Prices have increased as much as ten times and salaries have not kept up. Samer whose family has been affected said: "I was working in a fuel and gas station on the road of Damascus. When the crisis began, the militants surrounded our villages, and we did not feel safe. I have daughters and I was afraid for them. We have heard many stories about the militants, how they entered the villages, raped and killed. So we fled to Aleppo, where the war hadn't arrived yet." Soon the war came to Aleppo too. "We had a hard time when gunmen surrounded the neighbourhood and then laid siege to all of Aleppo. We lived for days wishing to have a loaf of bread and lacking electricity and running water. Vegetables were sold at very high prices, and rockets rained down on us like rain. We did not know what to do or where to go."

Samer's situation has improved, but life is still incredibly hard. He said: "My salary is too low. I have a salary of about 60 US dollars a month. Half of it goes on rent. My family needs between 200 and 300 dollars per month. If one of us gets sick, we can't afford to go to a doctor or buy medicine. We cannot pay for school materials. I can tell you that not a single family in Aleppo can live and continue to raise their children without receiving help. This aid helps us to get through this difficult period." Open Doors partners with local churches to support Samer's family, and along with 12,000 other families every month across Syria with food and basic needs.

Yet beneath the dark sky of conflict small glimmers of hope shine like stars. Reports of Christians coming back to their homes are starting to come in. They are coming back either from abroad or from areas inside Syria where they had to flee for safety. Open Doors local partners have been supporting projects to repair partially damaged home in Damascus, Homs and surrounding villages like Maaloula to enable Christians to return home - to rebuild shattered communities. Our partners are also helping repair bombed churches and providing micro loans to help families set up businesses so they can earn vital income.

Open Doors has launched the Hope for the Middle East campaign - a campaign to bring hope to hundreds of thousands of beleaguered Christians, supporting them in their struggle for a decent place to live, the right to equal citizenship and a prominent role in rebuilding and reconciling their society when the conflict ends. The charity is aiming to get a million signatures or voices of hope to take to the United Nations in December and put pressure on UN representatives to give Christians and other minorities in the Middle East a voice. So far people from over 119 countries have signed. Lisa Pearce, CEO of Open Doors UK and Ireland, said:

"We really need the UN to bring all possible influence to the international community, to get significant change in the Middle East. It is so encouraging that people from Samoa to Sri Lanka, from China to Cuba have signed the petition. This is part of a seven year campaign to secure a future for Christians in the Middle East. We're urging people to sign up and ensure change."

Syria is number 6 and Iraq is number 7 on the 2017 Open Doors World Watch List. Open Doors works through Churches and local partners to provide relief aid to tens of thousands of displaced Christians, alongside long-term support such as providing training, trauma counselling, and supporting families to rebuild their homes and start small businesses.

The Hope for the Middle East campaign is 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.

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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."