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Humanitarian Aid

Helping others in the midst of war

While the battles for Aleppo and Palmyra intensify and seem to enter a final stage, human suffering in Syria takes on unimaginable proportions. Riad Sargi, CEO of Caritas Syria: “The Christian church, through Caritas, currently supports about 200.000 war-affected families. Our biggest frustration is that the scale of suffering is far beyond our capacities.”

war in Syria CaritasThree years ago Sargi, who is based in Damascus, nearly lost his own daughter when her school was shelled by opposition forces. Like any Syrian, he has a painful story to tell. “You could see body parts in the rubble. I was just lucky that my daughter survived.”


(Ryad Sargi, photo: Cordaid)

Geopolitics vs the humanitarian perspective

Being a humanitarian, Sargi deliberately shies away from politics. But this doesn’t prevent him from having a clear, a-political message for political and military leaders in- and outside Syria. Sargi: “Some 180 Caritas humanitarian workers do their utmost every single day. They risk their lives to save and help others, in Aleppo, Homs and Damascus, in Tartous, Lattakia, and the northeast. In their name I say to all the international stakeholders who are meddling in this war: whatever geopolitical interest you have, whatever agenda you follow, whatever the trade in arms or petroleum may bring you, please, in the face of civilian suffering, stop defending those interests and look at what is happening from a purely human and humanitarian perspective. Only when you set aside your vested interests, can all parties sit together, bring peace to this land and overcome the deadlock of the talks we saw in Geneva and in the UN Security Council. If not, destruction will rage on and civilians will continue to serve as fuel for war.”

Whatever interest you have, please, in the face of civilian suffering, stop defending those interests.

Ryad Sargi, CEO Caritas Syria

Caritas aid programs

Since the start of the war almost six years ago Caritas Syria and their many volunteers support poor and needy families, whatever their background, religion or origin. They are supported by Cordaid and many other members of the international Caritas network. Their aid programs include:

  • Medical support;
  • Distribution of food and essential non-food items;
  • Housing;
  • Elderly care;
  • Education.

No job, no money, no food, no house

Sargi: “At this moment we are able to reach out to 200.000 families, all over the country. In the Aleppo area some 150.000 people are currently trying to leave the war zone, often at the risk of being shot by or caught and used as human shields. To those who escape we provide blankets – it’s getting very cold these days – food, medical support and hopefully in the future we can help to find shelter for them. They have nothing, no job, no income, no food, no house. Just try to imagine that.”

Caritas Syria also supports Iraqi refugees who – believe it or not – flee to war-torn Syria to escape hell in northern Iraq. Sargi: “One of our most recent aid interventions is in a camp in the city of Al Hassakeh, in the northeast. Here we support one thousand refugees who escaped the battle for Mosul in Northern Iraq.”

They are trying to leave the war zone, at the risk of being shot or caught and used as human shields.

Ryad Sargi, CEO Caritas Syria

Unfortunately Caritas is not able to operate everywhere. Sargi: “We cannot work in opposition-held areas. The risk to get killed by deliberate or indirect fire is simply too high.”

A fraction of what is needed

Repeatedly Sargi laments the lack of sufficient humanitarian aid in his country. “Every family we support, every person in need we can help is worth our efforts”, he says. “But given the scale of the demand our work is also extremely frustrating. All the aid organizations combined can only deliver a fraction of the emergency aid that is needed. Most of the people in need are left to themselves.”

According to the UNHCR  40% of the Syrian population – 7.6 million people – is displaced as a result of the war; this is the highest number in the world.

Future is ‘a dark tunnel’

Sargi’s vision of his country’s future is “a dark tunnel”. “No one could have imagined this war would last so long. My country has become a jungle of terrorism, with so many competing factions from all over the world. They need to leave the cities, stop killing, sit together and let the humanitarian community do its work. And in the longer run, once peace has returned, the biggest challenge will be to heal the wounds and make sure people have jobs and incomes to feed and raise their children. Not only have millions of displaced people lost everything, even the little money the lucky ones manage to earn buys them nothing. The Syrian Pound has dropped from 47 to 1 US dollar, to 540, an inflation of 1200%.”

Foremost I am a volunteer, just like the thousands of Syrians who help others to survive the madness of this war.

Ryad Sargi, CEO Caritas Syria

Helping fellow Syrians to survive

Sargi, who visited the Europe for a couple of days to coordinate international humanitarian programs, will soon fly back to Damascus. “No doubt security checks will be less demanding on the way back”, he says. First thing he will do? “Visit families who lack more than I do. We will just go on distributing clothes, food, medicines. I am the CEO of Caritas Syria, but even more I am a volunteer, just like the thousands of Syrians who help others to survive the madness of this war.”

Feature photo credit: Chiang Mai Diocese 157769269 via photopin (license)