Over the seven year crisis more than five million Syrians fled to surrounding countries seeking safety and work. Those that left the country were predominately aged between 18 and 45. They were the breadwinners of the family,the affluent and able.
The sick, vulnerable and the elderly population were unable to flee. In Syrian society, elderly people would normally be looked after by their families but many of the caregivers left the country. “Many of those who left were the providers for their parents and families,” said Father Yuhanna, from Homs. “This causes financial problems.”
The elderly face another Christmas without their sons, daughters and families,lacking basic necessities like food and medicine. During winter temperatures in Syria drop below freezing. Without the support of local churches elderly people will have to decide between buying food or fuel to heat their homes.
The charity Open Doors is supporting some 12,000 Syrian families through church-run Centres of Hope funded by donations from Open Doors supporters around the world. Every £1 donated to Open Doors’ work in Syria will be doubled by generous Open Doors supporters to help twice as many vulnerable people to survive the freezing winter.
“Food support is still necessary, in many families the breadwinner was killed or fled,” said Baptist minister Pastor Musa* who provides food aid to his community from a Centre of Hope in Safita, western Syria. “In our social aid program we give priority to those who lost the breadwinners.”
Trying to return
The security situation in many places in Syria has improved. Church leaders hope that family members who fled Syria will come back. Many leaders are trying to motivate their community to return.
Young Syrian men who left the country to avoid joining the army are facing serious problems if they return to the country. They are only allowed to return after they have lived out of Syria for over five years. They are also required to pay$8,000 USD to settle their situation. Most spent all their money getting out of the country. They were unable to work as a refugees and have depleted whatever savings they had left and cannot afford the fee.
Father George, a priest from Sednaya, wants to see his congregation return but doesn’t know how it will happen.
“I’m ready to cooperate with any suggestion and sharing together any suitable solution,” he said.
Many priests fear that if young people aren’t encouraged to return soon, there will be a ‘brain drain’.They fear Syria will struggle to rebuild and the elderly will continue to face many more Christmases alone.
Syria is number 15on the Open Doors World Watch List. As the civil war goes on, Christians continue to be abducted, physically and sexually abused, and forced to flee their homes.Persecution against Christians in Syria mainly comes from Islamic extremists.Church leaders are a particular target, especially those from traditional denominations as they are often recognisable by their clothing. Despite this,many church leaders have chosen to stay in Syria to serve their communities –many of those who remain in Syria are the most vulnerable, such as the elderly and those in need of medical care.