Aleppo bishop: two-thirds of Syria’s Christians have left the country

Syria highlighted in world map - adapted from WikimediaAgence France-Presse (AFP) report comments given by the Chaldean Catholic bishop Antoine Audo in a press conference in the UN headquarters in Geneva on Wednesday that two-thirds of Syria’s Christians have left the country.

The Aleppo bishop said that the exodus was even greater in his northern city: only approximately 40,000 of the one time community of 160,000 Christians remained.

Christians faced daily dangers. Wealthy Christians have been able to leave, but “the middle classes have become poor and the poor have become miserable.”

It is estimated that there were 1.5 million Christians in Syria in March 2011. After five years of conflict the Aleppo bishop says that numbers have dropped to half a million. Millions of Syrians of all religions have left the country to escape the ongoing conflict.

He added that the recent truce (in force since February 27) has brought “some relief” to the people of Aleppo after six months without stable water and electricity supplies.

Writing for Catholic Agency For Overseas Development (CAFOD) in September 2015, Audo said:

Christians and Muslims have lived together in Syria for generations, strengthened by our shared values. Even today, as the war rages around us, most people are not interested in sectarian divisions. Not so long ago I came out of my house and there was a Muslim man sitting on the ground outside who had been helped by Caritas. He got to his feet and said, “We know who the Christians are, they are worth their weight in gold.”

In the same interview for CAFOD he explained why so many Syrians are seeking a new life in Europe.

Large parts of our city [Aleppo] have been laid to waste. Bombs and rockets fall every day, and we never know when or where they will hit. We do not feel safe in our homes, in our schools, in the streets, in our churches or in our mosques. It is exhausting to live with this fear hour after hour, day after day.

Even without the shelling, life here would be almost unbearable. Throughout the summer, as temperatures have soared, people have been forced to cope without running water or electricity in their homes. Four out of five people don’t have a job, so families are not able to afford food or basic supplies … Almost no-one is still in Aleppo by choice: most of those who remain do not have enough money to leave.

CAFOD, the Catholic aid agency for England and Wales, supports the distribution of food and emergency supplies.

In some parts of the country, we have had to suspend our operations. In 2014, my colleagues in the city of Hassakeh provided vulnerable Syrians of every faith with vouchers for food, clothes and school equipment as well as covering the costs of medical treatment. In total, they reached over 20,000 people. But [in July 2015], as the city fell to extremists, all our staff had to flee at short notice.

In a statement marking “the fifth anniversary of the peaceful protests that set the stage for the Syrian conflict”, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom summed up the scale of the humanitarian crisis:

… a death toll ranging between 250,000 and 470,000, 4.7 million Syrians registered as refugees in neighboring countries, more than 6.5 million internally displaced, and over 140,000 children born stateless.