Intervention of the Secretary for Relations with States of the Holy See at the Brussels Conference on Syria
Published by press.vatican.va
The Conference “Supporting the future of Syria and the region” began in Brussels yesterday, co-chaired by the European Union, Germany, Kuwait, Norway, Qatar, the United Kingdom and the United Nations. It will also be attended by ministerial level representatives of seventy delegations, and representatives of international organizations and civil society.
The following is the intervention of His Excellency Msgr. Paul Richard Gallagher, secretary for Relations with States of the Holy See, given yesterday during the concluding day of the conference.
Intervention of His Excellency Msgr. Paul Richard Gallagher
The Holy See is pleased to participate in the “Supporting the future of Syria and the region” Conference with its twofold aim: to reconfirm the humanitarian commitments that the international community made in London last year, and to look at the best ways to support a lasting political solution to the Syrian crisis, that is inclusive and Syrian-led. While the crisis has entered, regrettably and painfully, into its seventh year, the Holy See remains deeply concerned about the tremendous human suffering, affecting millions of innocent children and other civilians who remain deprived of essential humanitarian aid, medical facilities and education, and urges that international humanitarian law be fully respected, particularly with regard to the protection of civilian populations, guaranteeing them access to necessary medical assistance. Furthermore, the Holy See also expresses its concern for the conditions and treatment of prisoners and detainees.
In his address to the Diplomatic Corps accredited to the Holy See, on 9 January last, His Holiness Pope Francis appealed to the international community “to make every effort to encourage serious negotiations for an end to the conflict, which is causing a genuine human catastrophe. Each of the parties must give priority to international humanitarian law, and guarantee the protection of civilians and needed humanitarian aid for the populace”.
The Holy See invites all parties to the Syrian conflict to spare no effort to end the seemingly endless cycle of violence, to restore that sense of solidarity that is the basis of social cohesion and peaceful coexistence. As Pope Francis has stated: “Peace triumphs through solidarity. It generates the desire for dialogue and cooperation which finds an essential instrument in diplomacy”.
The Holy See warmly welcomes the emphasis on providing humanitarian assistance and the efforts to sustain the ceasefire and the political solution to the crisis at this pledging conference and joins its voice to the appeals for increased funding to help the internally displaced persons, the refugees and impacted-host communities in the neighbouring countries. On this occasion, I wish to reassure that the Catholic Church remains committed to continue its humanitarian assistance in the coming year.
In 2016, the Holy See and the Catholic Church, through its network of charitable agencies, contributed to providing USD 200 million of humanitarian assistance of direct benefit to more than 4.6 million people in Syria and the region. In distributing aid, Catholic agencies and entities make no distinction regarding the religious or ethnic identity of those requiring assistance, and seek always to give priority to the most vulnerable and to those most in need. This approach was demonstrated also through the opening in January of a Caritas point in the Muslim area of East Aleppo and the “Open hospitals” project that seeks to open the Catholic hospitals in Aleppo and Damascus and render them fully operative for the needs of the local populations, especially the poor and disadvantaged.
Of deep concern remains the vulnerable situation of Christians and religious minorities in the Middle East, who suffer disproportionately the effects of war and social upheaval in the region, to such an extent that their very presence and existence are gravely threatened. As His Holiness Pope Francis has repeatedly recalled, their continued presence can enable them to fulfil their historic and essential role of contributing to the social cohesion of those societies, which will be of vital importance for the future of the entire region.
By Teddy Ostrow
Rana Najib was living in Damascus, Syria with her family when the civil war started in 2012. She was working with a program connected to the European Union at that time, but two months into the war the program fell through because the EU pulled funding when Western nations sanctioned the Syrian government. She went to Germany to continue her studies, but decided to go back to Damascus to help her family during the war.
Luckily, the part of Damascus where she and her family resided was not under attack and leaving the country was actually an option for her. She started to look for work in Syria, but job offers were limited because of the war so she went job-searching in Lebanon, Syria’s neighbor. By chance, Associazione Volontari per il Servizio Internationale (AVSI), an Italian international not-for-profit, non-governmental organization (NGO), was launching an emergency intervention operation in Lebanon. She pursued an interview with the NGO and was eventually given a job.
La Voce sat down at the UN Headquarters in New York, to talk with Ms. Najib, who is now the Education Coordinator of AVSI’s present $10 million operation in Lebanon, and Maria Laura Conte, AVSI’s Communications Director, to discuss how they are handling the Syrian refugee crisis.
Lebanon now hosts approximately 1.1 million Syrian refugees, nearly one fourth of its population, trailing only Turkey, which hosts 2.5 million. Human Rights Watch released a report on July 19 showing that 250,000 of the approximately 500,000 school-age Syrians in Lebanon are out of school. This epidemic is in spite of the nation’s generous allowance of Syrian children to go to public school for free, regardless of their legal residency. Ms. Najib confirmed for us, however, that according to her UNICEFcolleagues the figure is much higher: “Now in Lebanon there are more than 377,000 children currently excluded from formal and non-formal education programs.” This is due to limited educational resources, refugees’ inability to pay for travel fees and school supplies, and Lebanon’s residency regulations which effectively bar most Syrians from renewing their residency permits.
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