The United States government has announced a decision to lift sanctions on aid to Syria for a total of 180 days, in response to the catastrophic earthquakes which have ravaged the country, along with its neighbor Turkey.
Speaking to Vatican News’ Andrea De Angelis, Fr. Firas Lufti, a Syrian Franciscan, called for sanctions to be lifted permanently.
In the course of the interview, he also discussed the work Franciscans are doing in Aleppo to help victims of the earthquake, and stressed the scale of suffering in the country.
Abolish sanctions on Syria
Fr. Lufti welcomed the news, announced earlier on Friday, that the United States government is temporarily lifting sanctions on Syria in order to allow aid to reach affected regions.
He underlined, however, that this is not by itself sufficient: “I hope,” he said, “that the sanctions will be lifted permanently, and not just for 180 days.”
In the face of such enormous need, he underlined, “the role of governments is central, and short-term initiatives are not enough.”
In calling for a permanent end to international sanctions on Syria, Fr. Lufti added his voice to that of other Church leaders.
The heads of the three major Churches in Syria – the Patriarchs of the Greek Catholic, Antiochene Greek Orthodox, and Syriac Catholic Churches – have released a letter calling for an immediate end to all sanctions.
The international community, Fr Lufti stressed, has a duty “to look at our reality head-on, and not merely pretend, as in the past, to see it. The hope is that we do not remain indifferent to Syria, that we can give real, true hope to the country and the Syrians left behind.”
Friars on the frontline
Fr. Lufti also discussed the work that the Franciscans in Syria are doing to help victims of the earthquake.
Immediately following the quake, which struck during the night, he said, many people took refuge in Aleppo’s churches.
Since their homes have either been destroyed or are not safe to return to, they have had to remain there. The Franciscans have three buildings in Aleppo, Fr. Lufti said, and they are currently housing around 2,500 people.
The situation of these families is desperate, he continued: “Women and men are lying on the floor, because it’s impossible to find mattresses, and it’s also difficult to get blankets for everyone … We are talking about 2,500 people, who have fled their homes in only their pyjamas. What do they need? Practically everything.”
The scale of suffering
It is important to remember, Fr. Lufti stressed, that the earthquake is not an isolated incident.
“We are living through a tragedy, a great tragedy: that of 12 years of war. This is an accumulation of suffering, necessity and extreme need for relief.”
Things are made worse, he said, by a harsh winter: “You can really feel the cold; the temperatures are below zero, and now there is no heating. These are the first necessities: diesel, electricity. These are necessities for those who have already paid a heavy price in recent years because of the war, a tragedy to which the earthquake has now been added.”
by: Joseph Tulloch and Andrea De Angelis