Catholic aid agency in Lebanon on Syria's refugees and conflict

2013-02-01 Vatican Radio

(Vatican Radio) The Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA)’s regional director in Lebanon is expressing frustration over his small aid agency’s ability to meet the growing needs of Syria’s refugees and displaced people. And, he says there’s no end in sight to the Syrian conflict.

Issam Bishara, responsible for Lebanon, Syria and Egypt, told Vatican Radio’s Tracey McClure, “I want to be frank with you. This is beyond the capacity or ability of any one or even (more than one) organization. This has to be treated at the level of the United Nations, at the level of large donations from rich countries if you will in North America, in Europe.”

Small organizations like CNEWA, Bishara says, are limited in the amount of help they can offer to the more than 500,000 refugees now in Jordan and Lebanon alone. But giving up before you’ve even tried is something he’s never contemplated.

“You could always blame the darkness or you could light a candle,” says Bishara. “So what we’re doing is actually helping now. Our target is 2,100 (displaced) families inside Syria and we have been able to provide lots of really needed items including food and other items.”

Many of the families receiving CNEWA’s help in Syria he says, have fled to other parts of the country from fighting in Homs, Aleppo and Damascus. They are living in extremely difficult circumstances, he says.

CNEWA, he explains, is working with eight to nine partners including different churches and religious congregations, congregations of nuns, the Jesuit fathers, and St. Vincent de Paul.

Thanks to these partnerships, CNEWA is able to help provide food rations, blankets, mattresses, heating apparatus and fuel for heaters among other things.

Asked how a peaceful solution to the Syrian conflict may be achieved, Bishara says,

“Unfortunately, of what we’re seeing in Syria, it doesn’t seem to be coming to an end soon. The regime is still fighting, the Syrian Free Army is still fighting and getting lots of ammunition and firearms as well… but it seems like it’s going to go on for some more time and unfortunately this means that lots more people will die.”

“The end is not clear yet: whether the regime would really collapse or not, whether Syria would be divided in the near future into a Sunni area and another Alawite area. This raises a major question about the future of Christian families inside Syria. Where would they reside? Are we going to see an unfortunate scenario like the one we saw in Iraq where the Christians had to pay the price and be displaced? These are major questions and I’m not sure so many people have the answers for (them).”

Listen to Tracey McClure’s extended interview with Issam Bishara: