Migrants: 350 Christian families back home in Syria

In Quseir, close to Homs, to rebuild their lives

21 September, 15:34

    The church of Quseir (picture by ACS, Aiuto alla Chiesa che Soffre). The church of Quseir (picture by ACS, Aiuto alla Chiesa che Soffre).

    (by Elisa Pinna) (ANSAmed) - ROME - While Syrian refugees are travelling towards Europe, 350 families of Christian refugees have decided to head back home in the town of Al Quseir, some 45 kilometers from Homs, from which they fled starting in 2013, the Melkite bishop of Homs, Mons. Jean Abdo Arbach, said. Arbach, together with international organization Aid to the Church in Need, is coordinating a project to rebuild the local Christian community, as well as the parish church of Saint Elias, which was partly destroyed by violent fighting in the town.

    Al Quseir, which had some 65,000 residents before the war and now houses about half, is located in a strategic position along the road connecting Damascus to the coast and is not far from the Lebanese bases of Hezbollah, an ally of President Assad.

    With a Christian and Alawite majority (the Shiite sect of the Syrian president), al Quseir was conquered in a first phase of the war by Sunni Muslims. The majority of the population fled, including 700 Christian families who had been living for generations around the church of Saint Elias.

    It was reconquered by loyalist forces in May 2013 after harsh fighting and has been controlled by Assad's army since then. So about half of the Christians who fled have returned, instead of fleeing towards the Balkans. A picture shows a small crowd of men, women (dressed in regular clothes and without a veil) and children looking at their church, with the bell and front rose window destroyed and the semi-collapsed roof.

    ''This church will prove that there is a Christian community again here, you can imagine what this means to us'', explained the bishop of Homs, Mons. Arbach.

    However, if some are coming back, most are fleeing. ''Aleppo is dying'', the apostolic vicar of the city, Mons. Georges Khazeh, told ANSAmed. The city is a Christian stronghold: out of the 150,000 who used live there, only 50,000 are left. Aleppo's population, half in loyalist areas and the other half in areas controlled by al Qaida rebels (al Nusra) and other Islamist groups, is torn by bombs and mortar shells between the warring sides. There is a lack of electricity and drinking water, the bishop said.

    ''The churches have some wells from which we get water and we try to take it to the people with our vans. We are against the exodus but we certainly understand those leaving''.

    ''I wonder why - he stressed - the international community, instead of letting itself be overwhelmed by refugees, does not deal with the causes of what is happening - the war in Syria''.

    ''It would just be necessary to stop the inflow of weapons to immediately improve the situation but nobody seems to be willing to do it'', concluded Mons. Khazeh.

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