Syria’s leading Catholic bishop has said that humanitarian aid should be increased in and near Syria to help contain Christians’ flight from the war-torn region.
“Of course, we cannot decide for ourselves what response our people should make, the suffering is so great,” Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarch Gregorios III of Antioch told Aid to the Church in Need Jan. 27.
“But the real answer is to provide more help, more relief, on the spot and not outside, which will encourage them to leave.”
“But if they must go, we understand their situation,” the Damascus-based patriarch said.
Since fighting broke out in March 2011, over 100,000 people have been killed and 9.5 million people have been displaced from their homes, the BBC reports.
“Daily the suffering is getting worse, daily the problems are growing,” Patriarch Gregorios lamented. “The level of suffering is much greater than the aid provided.”
U.K. Foreign Secretary William Hague has said that the British government is actively considering a plan to accept “particularly vulnerable” Syrian refugees into the country, Aid to the Church in Need reports. Hague also stressed that the British government’s main effort remains assisting displaced persons in the region.
The patriarch warned that if refugees leave the Middle East, especially for countries like the U.S. and Australia, they may “never go back.”
“This applies to other groups as well as the Christians.”
He said that despite the heavy pressure on Jordan, Turkey and other neighboring countries that are hosting Syrian refugees, aid programs can be improved there.
“There is more that can be done locally, within the region,” he said.
Peace talks are underway in Geneva, but are making little progress.
The Syrian opposition has said that the Syrian government is not cooperating on humanitarian aid or a plan for a power transition, a goal which was one condition of the talks. The Syrian government, which often characterizes its opponents as “terrorist groups,” said its delegation will not “hand over power to anyone,” the BBC reports.
Patriarch Gregorios stressed the importance of a “common vision” among the U.S., Russia and Europe in helping both the Syrian government and the opposition proceed.
“When the big countries are divided, it means the others will be too,” he said. “What matters is that we have a local, Syrian solution to the problem.”
Patriarch Gregorios also called for the end of weapons imports into Syria, especially criticizing imports that supply jihadist groups and other extremists.
On Jan. 27 Reuters reported that the U.S. Congress secretly approved providing light arms to “moderate” Syrian opposition factions. The supplies include anti-tank rockets, though not surface-to-air missiles.
Russia, for its part, sides with the Syrian government and is supplying arms to its forces.