Turkey and Syria need post-earthquake support – not sanctions

Turkey-Syria earthquakes

Turkey and Syria need our help urgently, say Pope Francis, Orthodox patriarchs and other church leaders.

Both countries were struck by two powerful earthquakes on Monday last week.

They need solidarity from all of us – and they are “in part already martyred by a long war”, the pope says.

By Sunday 12 February, the death toll was over 33,000 and climbing.

Hundreds of engineers, medical personnel and rescue workers have been sent to the devastated countries to search for people trapped under wreckage and aid the thousands without shelter in freezing winter conditions.

“Let us pray together so that these our brothers and sisters can go forth in the face of this tragedy, and let us ask Our Lady to protect them,” Francis said last Wednesday, before praying with thousands of visitors and pilgrims gathered for his general audience.

Numerous Catholic charitable and aid organisations are helping in practical ways.

Caritas Internationalis, the umbrella organisation of national Catholic charities, has launched a fundraising campaign. It is also asking for donations of winter clothing especially for infants and young children. The charity has been active in Turkey since 1991 and in Syria since 2011, primarily providing aid to refugees.

Bishop Paolo Bizzeti, apostolic vicar of Anatolia, said that the earthquakes were “a tragedy within a tragedy,” since the region is already “full of refugees from various countries who have fled terrible situations.

“It is difficult to receive the aid necessary given the state of the roads” he noted.

In Syria, Aid to the Church in Need, a pontifical foundation that provides aid to Catholic communities worldwide, is already supporting reparation projects in Aleppo so people can return home.

The charity said an estimated 7,500 people slept in Aleppo’s churches, convents and other locations the night after the earthquakes.

Initially, help for Syria was blocked, because of international sanctions against the country.

Syrian patriarchs and heads of churches demanded the lifting of “unjust sanctions”, calling for “exceptional measures” to secure delivery of humanitarian aid.

Syria has been under US sanctions since 1979, when Washington designated it a state sponsor of terrorism. The restrictions were tightened amid the Iraq war in 2004 and repeatedly once civil war broke out in 2011, which led to a collapse in relations between Syria’s government and the West.

“We, the three patriarchs with the heads of churches in Syria, demand from the United Nations and the countries imposing sanctions on Syria to lift the embargo and the unjust sanctions imposed on the Syrian people, and to take exceptional measures and immediate initiatives to secure the delivery of the much-needed relief and humanitarian aid,” the church leaders said in a statement last Thursday.

“We appeal to governments, international organisations, NGOs, charities and peace advocates everywhere to expedite the support of relief and rescue efforts, irrespective of any political consideration.”

Their call has been heeded.

On Friday, the US announced it has temporarily eased its sanctions on Syria. It aims to speed up aid deliveries to the country’s north-west, where almost no humanitarian assistance has arrived.


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