Worst month ever in Syria, says Bible Society
By Stephen Cauchi
September 29 2020August has been the “worst month ever in Syria”, according to the Bible Society of Australia, as a deadly combination of COVID-19, civil war and sanctions traumatises the population.
Bible Society of Australia chief operating officer the Revd Melissa Lipsett described Syria’s situation as “catastrophic”, with the country facing a humanitarian food crisis and a mounting toll of COVID deaths.
“One agency is reporting five million children at risk of starvation in Syria,” she said. And due to sanctions imposed on the Syrian Government by other nations, “food and medicine were just not getting across the border”.
Although Syrian Government statistics put the number of active COVID cases at around 2500, with just 152 deaths, there is widespread belief throughout the country these numbers are far higher.
“My colleague there told me that 62 doctors alone died in Aleppo during August,” said Ms Lipsett.
“Syria has so many layers of trauma and distress.
“After nearly 10 years of civil war the sanctions have been enormously damaging to the average person trying to make ends meet in Syria – and then you add a pandemic to that and it feels like the crisis is never going to end.”
There was little testing for COVID in Syria and, as well, insufficient personal protective equipment.
Lockdown has proved difficult for the average Syrian “because if he doesn’t work he doesn’t get paid and he doesn’t put food on the table”.
The national deputy director of the Bible Society Syria* said in a media statement that “we Syrians feel that crisis and trauma never ends. The pandemic makes it worse and worse. We wake up and we have a new crisis”.
“The sanctions are too heavy for our people,” he said. “Children are starving in the streets. I ask God why. There is no grace in war. It is all that is evil.”
He told the Bible Society of Australia via Zoom that August was the worst month yet in Syria, said Ms Lipsett.
Families were unable to feed their children, find work and manage their lives, he said. Hungry and traumatised children were begging on the street.
Three trauma healing projects are being run in cities across Syria, offering Bible-based trauma healing as well as clinical therapy, he said.
Around 85 people recently trained on a children’s trauma healing program and spent some time on a camp with children. The children were encouraged to talk about pain, express their feelings, and “take their pain to the cross”.
While the aid the Bible Society provides in Syria is mostly spiritual aid, said Ms Lipsett, the society also provides food and hygiene supplies as well as a trauma healing booklet.
“Every piece of scripture that’s made available in Syria at the moment is accompanied by these practical items as well,” she said.
The Bible Society’s programs were so “incredibly popular” they were now open to the community as well as through churches. There was a “lot of curiosity”, she said.
“People of the Muslim faith have now been availing themselves of this also which is really quite remarkable.”
The Bible Society in Syria is urging Australians to pray, to lobby their MPs to end the sanctions on Syria, and also to donate money, said Ms Lipsett. She said in 2020 the Bible Society of Australia would be donating $US50,000.
Whereas for Australians prayer was “a bit academic, a bit theoretical”, Syrians “actually hang onto it as a lifeline”.
“They really do covet the Christian community’s prayers very genuinely … they genuinely covet Australians’ prayer,” she said.
Sanctions in Syria were proving to be “extraordinarily difficult”, she said. Consequently, the Bible Society is urging its donors to “do some research around the sanctions that prevent the free flow of medicine and food into places like Syria and to talk to their local MP about it”.
*Not named for security reasons
To support the Bible Society’s work in Syria, visit biblesociety.org.au/trauma