Security not only concern for Syrians returning home
*representative image used
All many Syrians want is to go home. Fortunately, as Islamic State forces are pushed back and more areas are declared “safe”, some Syrians are getting their wish. According to the UN’s Refugee Agency (the UNHCR), nearly half a million have been able to return to their homeland since January.
Around 440,000 internally displaced people, and more than 31,000 refugees who had fled to surrounding countries, have now gone home – mainly to the cities of Aleppo, Hama, Homs and Damascus – “to check on their properties or to find out about family members,” according to UNHCR spokesman Andrej Mahecic.
But while many people consider the security situation in Syria to be improving, the country’s problems are still far from solved. As Mahecic noted, the conditions are far from ideal when it comes to ensuring the refugees can return with safety and dignity. And the under-deverloped infrastructure for returners will likely be further strained in the future since an estimated 6.3 million people remain internally displaced across Syria and 5 million others are still refugees in neighbouring countries.
Rebuilding and trauma counseling
To add to the complications, most Syrians who choose to return will find their houses severely damaged and the local infrastructure destroyed.
In November, for instance, World Watch Monitor shared the story of Nesreen*. Nesreen returned with her family to settle back in Maaloula, 50km north of Damascus. She received help from Open Doors to rebuild her house, and took part in an income-generating project where she learned to make clothes and other products that she could sell.
“Basic needs are being met but local church leaders recognise that the need for pastoral care and trauma counselling will increase significantly as more people return,” said a project coordinator for Open Doors. “Often they don’t think of asking for this kind of help. They don’t realise they have a need or they think it’s not for them.”
“Distribution of food and medicine is good, but in the long run that is not our core intervention as Open Doors. We are there to support, to follow up with churches who can help to reintegrate people back into society. Churches don’t have to provide jobs but can advocate for the rights of Christians. Christians need to be part of building a new society in Syria.”
While many groups will struggle to restore their income and psychological well-being, Christian families are sometimes hit the hardest.
For many of the 2 million Christians who lived in Syria in 2011, the arrival of the Islamic State was only the “tipping point” for displacement, according to a report released by a trio of Christian charities. For many of these believers, the ultimate decision to leave was due to an “accumulation of factors over time.”
These charities noted that for the Christians who settled elsewhere, there is “little incentive” to return, with several interviewees concluding “the Middle East is no longer a home for Christians.”
For Syrians to wish to return home there must be a reliable guarantee of safety from the Islamic State, the army, and other militant groups. A policy paper released alongside the report suggested a “national accountability mechanism” be established to deal with incidents of religious and ethnic persecution and discrimination in Iraq and Syria. This, the paper emphasized, is needed “to restore faith in a system that ensures all religious and ethnic communities are affirmed as equal citizens and deserving of protection, while also deterring negative actors from taking adverse actions against these communities.”
In January, a UK coalition of mainly Christian charities working in Iraq and Syria agreed that it was “vital that Christians and other minority populations have support for their political and security concerns if they are to feel reassured enough to return […], rebuild their communities and undertake any reconciliation process”.
As Christians from Syria face these ongoing difficulties, Open Doors continues to support them on the ground by providing material support, training, and opportunities to generate income. The toll on both these Christians, and those who serve them, however, is noticeable. These believers crave the prayers of fellow Christians around the globe who ask God to give them strength, wisdom, opportunity to witness, and financial provisions needed to start over. If you’d like to stay up to date on prayer requests like this one, you can have current needs sent directly to your inbox by clicking here.
*Name changed for security.