This weekend marks the ninth anniversary of the civil war in Syria. While Europe worries about a new wave of refugees, the humanitarian crisis around the city of Idlib goes largely unreported.
Many came to Idlib from other parts of Syria when the area was relatively safe. Now shells and bombs are raining down on towns and villages and the Syrian Army is positioned just 5 miles outside the city of 3 million people. There is not enough humanitarian aid and in overcrowded camps families have to share tents in groups of 15 to 20. Yet still people are streaming out of the city of Idlib in what has become one of the biggest humanitarian catastrophes of the nine-year war.
With camps full some have taken to extraordinary lengths to find shelter. Here Abu Ahmed and his family are carving a cave out of rock in the mountains. He describes how he was forced to flee when 90% of his village was destroyed by the advancing Syrian Army.
On 5 March a ceasefire was agreed between Turkish government forces and those of the Syrian and Russian goverments. But the Syrian government is determined to oust the Jihadi group, Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham, that for the past year has controlled the city of Idlib. How could there possibly be any adequate humanitarian response if in the coming days there were to be a battle for the city of Idlib?
Over the course of the conflict, the UK government has provided funding for aid to refugees in Syria and neighbouring countries. But we might reflect on our reticence to provide refuge for Syrians escaping to Europe. The past nine years have seen untold suffering for the Syrian people. Various accounts have put the death toll at around 400,000 people representing around 2% of the entire population. Half of the population of Syria have been forced to leave their homes. They are displaced within Syria or are refugees in Lebanon, Jordan or Turkey. In Lebanon, Syrian refugees represent one sixth of the population while Turkey hosts 3.6 million Syrian refugees.
In the six years between January 2014 and December 2019 the UK has accepted 19,533 refugees under the Syrian Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme and a further 1,753 refugees from the wider Middle East and North Africa region under the Vulnerable Children Resettlement Scheme. Scotland and Northern Ireland have been most hospitable. Churches and other faith groups have been involved in their support and welcome. Even in these two nations, the number of Syrian refugees resettled still only represents three people for every 10,000 in the local population.
When the Syrian war comes into our media’s focus, it is often due to the flight of refugees escaping through fences or on boats to get to Greece and to Europe. We have heard less of the dire situation in the province of Idlib. This is where we might direct our prayers as the war approaches another anniversary. We continue to pray for the factions in Syria and regional powers to make bold steps to this conflict to an end.
Jesus, whose family fled for their lives
Jesus the refugee
Jesus who lived under occupation
Jesus the lover of enemies
We pray to you for the peoples of Syria
Especially for those ordinary people trapped in Idlib
As they hear planes overhead
And fear for their families
Caught in the trauma of relentless warfare
We hardly know what or how to pray
Except to ask and ask again
For justice and peace
In your mercy and by our resolve
Bring justice and peace
This prayer was written by Revd Dr Barbara Glasson, President of the Methodist Conference 2019-2020.