Syriac-Catholic leaders told a member of the Italian government that the economic sanctions against Syria are crushing the country’s Christian community and must be relaxed.
Archbishop Jacques Mourad of Homs, west Syria, said that the embargo imposed by western nations negatively impacts the general population and Christians in particular, while having no effect on the government, its intended target.
The archbishop – who spent five months as a captive of Islamist group Daesh (ISIS) – told Alfredo Mantovano, Italy’s Undersecretary of State to the Presidency of the Council of Ministers, that the difficulty of transferring funds and importing goods into Syria makes humanitarian assistance almost impossible.
At the meeting on Monday (24th July), representatives of Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) stressed that, even though the sanctions officially make an exception for humanitarian aid, this does not always work in practice because bank transfers to Syria are blocked.
They added that Church-run institutions providing essential support for communities in need face difficulties accessing vital funding.
Archbishop Antoine Chahda of Aleppo, north-west Syria, highlighted the extreme poverty, stressing that ordinary people in Aleppo, and other parts of Syria, find it impossible to pay for basic essentials such as electricity, food and medicine.
Bishop Rami Al-Kabalan of Aretusa, west Syria, underlined he struggles of maintaining the Catholic education system while many schools have been either nationalised or closed – negatively affecting not only learning but also interfaith dialogue, which is key to preventing radicalisation.
ACN representatives pointed out that Syria’s Christian population has decreased from two million – around 10 percent of the population – to 300-500,000 during the armed conflict, which has been going on for more than a decade.
Mr Mantovano said sanctions should not hinder humanitarian aid and that the Italian government will discuss this problem with its allies, especially within the European Union.
He added that the government will explore changes to the current system of sanctions, which could help restore hope to a war-weary population.
In 2021, Pope Francis spoke about the humanitarian crisis facing Syria and highlighted how these are often aggravated by western sanctions.
In his address to members of the Diplomatic Corps accredited to the Holy See, the Pope said: “While understanding the reasons for imposing sanctions, the Holy See does not view them as effective, and hopes that they will be relaxed, not least to improve the flow of humanitarian aid, especially medicines and healthcare equipment.”