Syrian villages welcome return of humanitarian aid

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United Nations helps to restore aid to 3,000 Syrian families

By Linda Espenshade for Mennonite Central Committee

After opposition forces overtook the Syrian villages of Haffar and Sadad on Oct. 21, Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) appealed to the United Nations to make it possible for humanitarian aid to reach the estimated 3,000 Syrian families endangered there.

A week later, access has been restored, report Doug and Naomi Enns, MCC representatives based in Beirut, Lebanon, and working in Lebanon and Syria. The Ennses are from Winnipeg, Man.

Since the Syrian civil war began in 2011, Sadad and Haffar had been relatively safe places where many Syrians sought refuge after being displaced by violence in other parts of the country.

After the takeover, civilians were killed and injured as opposition forces used the villages as a base to fight government forces. Houses and cars were confiscated and movement of supplies and people in and out of the area severely restricted.

“I could hear children cry in fear of the situation,” says Riad Jarjour, president of the Forum for Development, Culture and Dialogue (FDCD), describing an Oct. 22 phone call with his brother in Haffar. “I could hear the faint sounds of the barrage of mortars and intense fighting raging outside. As I sat on the phone, I could not but cry with them,” he says.

MCC works through Syrian partner organizations to provide humanitarian assistance throughout Syria based on need. In these historically Christian villages, where Muslims and Christians live peacefully together, MCC provides food and educational assistance.

Jarjour and Bishop Selwanos of the Syrian Orthodox Church in nearby Homs, another MCC partner, appealed to MCC to advocate with the U.N. to negotiate safe passage for the Red Crescent to reach the wounded and safe evacuation of affected families in Haffar and Sadad.

Doug Hostetter, director of the MCC United Nations Office, took their message to the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) on Oct 23. It was welcomed, Hostetter says, and shared with OCHA in the Middle East. MCC advocates in Ottawa and Washington, D.C. also talked to government officials about the situation.

MCC’s request was in line with an Oct. 2 U.N. Security Council Presidential Statement, Hostetter says, which includes this sentence: “The Security Council calls on all parties to respect the U.N. guiding principles of humanitarian emergency assistance and stresses the importance of such assistance being delivered on the basis of need, devoid of any political prejudices and aims.”

Jarjour and the Ennses thank all those who had prayed and invite continued prayers for Haffar and Sadad and for partners in the area working to evacuate, relocate and provide assistance to the many people who were displaced.

Since the Syrian crisis began in March 2011, MCC has worked through Syrian organizations and churches to deliver food, cash allowances and household supplies to 10,555 families in Syria. MCC allocated $9.4 million so far in response to the Syrian crisis in Syria, Lebanon and Jordan.

MCC is a worldwide ministry of Anabaptist churches that focuses on relief, development and peace building. MCC has been working in Syria since 1991.

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