Syrian women, children caught in a situation they never imagined
By Mark Pattison
Catholic News Service
WASHINGTON (CNS) — While media images of the Syrian civil war
are mainly those of men with guns, workers from Catholic Relief Services
have seen “predominantly women and children, fleeing,” said
a communications officer who recently returned from the Middle East.
The 250,000 Syrian refugees, part of a larger group of
1.5 million Syrians displaced from their homes due to the fierce fighting
enveloping their country, have been “blindsided by what is happening to them,” she
said in a webcast Aug. 22.
These Syrians were “viewing (the war) from a distance, never thinking
this would affect their lives,” Brennan said. “Many of these
people, literally fleeing for their lives, are middle class. They have
nice homes. The country has no debt. They never expected to see this
Brennan told of a pregnant Syrian refugee who got a job as a maid in
exchange for shelter for her and her sons. She worked until she gave
birth and went back to work again shortly thereafter.
“She had no way to see a doctor or pediatrician until
CRS stepped in,” she said. “Many of these women have bullet
wounds. Their children need care.”
“One woman I met in Jordan ... she was with her mother and they
heard gunshots and they scurried around a corner. And the woman saw her
mother, lying next to her, on the ground,” felled by a bullet.
“Families are trying desperately to stay together,” but not
always succeeding, Brennan added. Sometimes, men “stay home trying
to protect their land, or they’re fighting — or worse, they’ve
been kidnapped. The women are left to lead the family. They think: What
is happening to the people they love in this world?”
But she also told of a Syrian husband and father named Faizad.
“This is a humanitarian crisis at its heart,” she
There are “huge social needs of the people, especially children
and mothers,” said Vivian Manneh, a 20-year CRS veteran currently
serving as a regional program manager for the Middle East. “Kids
are starting to think, ‘What is going to happen to us? Where are
we going to be?’ There are lots of psychosocial needs, lots of
basic needs such as food, clothing, shelter.”
Manneh said she sees people “who are in need of food,
who are praying and lacking lots of the basics. They are leaving their
homes with nothing. Their children are out of school. They have no clothing.
They are using fruit trees to chop as cooking gas. Their situation is
dire. The humanitarian crisis is increasing a lot.”
She added, “If you see people coming out with babies, they have
nothing to cross (the border) with, no sustenance — they had to
The shelter issue is complicated. Because of the Syrian
of Palestinian refugee camps, they resist as long as possible going to
the camps set up for them.
“There are not a lot of places to go to. The rents are increasing,” Manneh
Because of the prior long-term stability of their country, few Syrians
have relatives in other countries who can take them in.
“They will come back (to Syria) as long as they feel safe. They
will go back even if they know their home is laying right on the ground
and they know they don’t have a place,” Manneh said.
Brennan concurred. She said refugees have told her, “I’d
rather sleep on the dirt of my home” as long as there was peace.
“They don’t see themselves as long-term refugees,” she
said. “They want to go home.”
Seeing the “sad sequence of deaths and injuries, including among
civilians, and a huge number of people internally displaced or seeking
refuge in neighbouring countries,” Pope Benedict XVI appealed July
29 for an end to “all violence and bloodshed” in Syria, which
has seen thousands of civilian deaths since protests against the Bashar
Assad regime started in March 2011.
In an April 13 letter to National Security Adviser Thomas
Donilon, Bishop Richard E. Pates of Des Moines, Iowa, chair of the U.S.
on International Justice and Peace, asked the federal government to “continue
to work through multilateral channels, to restore stability in the region,
while protecting the human rights of all people, including Christians.”
One irony in the situation is that an estimated 1 million Iraqi refugees
currently live in Syria. Now, some Syrians are fleeting to Iraq.
“They (Iraqis) are very hospitable, opening their doors,” Manneh
said, but “we don’t know how many (refugees) they are going