.- According to a Syrian bishop, Catholics in Syria are struggling to provide adequate aid and assistance to thousands of Iraqi refugees. Bishop Antoine Audo, of the Chaldean Catholic diocese of Aleppo, said that some 25,000 Iraqis have fled to his country, seeking shelter.
The prelate, who was made his comments during a visit to Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), stressed that Syria had received the vast majority of refugees and added that the Iraqis arriving in Damascus had been given “a warm welcome,” for which they were very grateful. He said that the refugees had packed into Damascus, with the authorities allowing them in without visas and supporting the efforts of Catholic leaders to provide accommodation and access to health care.
Bishop Audo went on to thank ACN for the emergency packages dispatched since the Iraqis began arriving in Syria after the 2003 overthrow of Saddam Hussein. He explained that in recent months there had been an explosion in the number of refugees from Iraq and that ACN’s help had also funded urgently needed hospital operations for the refugees.
The bishop reported that another part of ACN’s aid was going towards catechesis for up to 300 children. “There is a big need to help the people in Damascus. We cannot provide a solution for all the problems but we are doing whatever we can. We are very grateful to Aid to the Church in Need.”
The bishop went on to underline the increasing dangers faced by Christians in Iraq: “Kidnapping, death threats, and forcing the girls to wear the veil – for all these reasons, it is dangerous for Christians. They leave because they are afraid. The fanatics want to get rid of Christians completely,” he said and described how an Iraq priest escaped from the country after receiving death threats on his mobile phone. “The priest left everything behind. He still feels unsafe,” Bishop Audo said.