October 2018
rifugiati latakia

Our trip to Syria. First stop: Latakia, aid to displaced from Idlib

Syria. We arrive in Latakia late at night. The trip from Beirut to here lasted almost seven hours, starting form the intense traffic of the Lebanese capital between huge buildings and immense avenues, then on the rough and dark country roads or along the Syrian coast. Latakia sleeps peacefully, cradled by the calm sea that gently caresses the large commercial port with its huge suspended cranes, motionless in the cool night air. And even during the journey, only the checkpoints along the road and the few flashes away in the dark remind us that the war is not over yet, although here you seem so far away.

In 2014 it seemed that this city would have been the scene of violent clashes, but then the war never really rached the city and there is nothing that apparently makes us imagine the opposite. Apparently, because even here most people live below the poverty line, there is no work and the economy is in serious crisis.

“Certainly one lives safer than elsewhere and there is some more possibility of building a future”, explains the following morning Fr. Atef, the Franciscan parish priest of the Custody of the Holy Land. “For this reason – he continues – many Christians have fled to Latakia from the province of Idlib, from the Christian villages of Knayeh and Yacoubieh, about 90 kilometers from here”. People who were subtracted from the fury of the Al-Nusra Jihadists, wealthy people who had earned a dignified life linked to the cultivation of olive trees and fruit trees; people hunted from one day to the next by their homes from envious neighbors or collaborators who took advantage of friendships with the rebels to rob them and occupy their land. Penalty for rejection: death.

These people above all make up the Christian community of Latakia. ATS pro Terra Sancta has been offering them aid since 2014, through the distribution of food and financial support to pay rents to about 350 families; in addition to this it supplies milk powder for 50 children and various types of aid to their mothers. After the brief introductory conversation with Father Atef we head to the office of ATS pro Terra Sancta which is located within the complex of the Franciscan convent. Here we meet Eva, who has worked for the association since we opened the office a year ago and Hinryt, a young 27-year-old volunteer. She has been working with us since this summer, when she was asked to coordinate the activities of the summer camps for children and children in the community (a very important educational activity supported by the German foundation Missionszentrale der Franziskaner in collaboration with ATS). “You think that many of the children – Eva explains to us – had never eaten real cheese, and for the most part they did not know how to play with each other because they were accustomed to violent behavior … There are so many cases of domestic violence due to frustration and discouragement and the children behave accordingly “. Summer camps were therefore an opportunity to see a different, orderly and beautiful way of having fun.

Eva is of Armenian origin, but was born and raised here, Hinryt instead comes from Knayeh. She and her family were also forced to flee the persecution of Al-Nusra. “My father had a restaurant – he says – that welcomed many people, to say of many the best of Knayeh. Here, in addition to the delicious food, he served wine and Arak [an alcoholic drink made of anise very appreciated in the Middle East] of his production. One day two men came to the door asking us for an impossible sum. My father refused and we were forced to leave … “.

As Hinryt recounts, the impression he had just arrived the night before, slowly begins to fade: the war is not over yet and indeed we are faced with one of the thousands of people who cannot return to their homes because in the province of Idlib, where Knayeh is located, the 30,000 jihadists who have taken refuge here are the masters. And even though the regular army and its allies have recently loosened up the pressure around the region, the roads are still closed awaiting a final decision that is late in coming. “And even if we can come back one day, I do not know what we would find …” Hinryt says again.

Hinryt’s story is similar to that of many other families we meet in Latakia. Similar to that of Hania and Yussef who live in a house in terrible conditions, convinced that their son, kidnapped five years ago by the rebels at Yacoubieh, will return one day from here to Latakia. No one has more courage to repeat for the umpteenth time that their son is probably no longer because the ransom to pay for his release was too high. Not even Maruoa, their daughter, who despite everything in November will marry Hani: a wonderful news, a flower of hope, which interrupts for a moment the stories of the tragedies that follow each other before us. Similar to that of Fateh, which will accompany us on our next stop: Damascus. He speaks Italian because before the war he did numerous business trips for Italian oil mills. He also had a crusher, which was taken away piece by piece from the rebels and reassembled who knows where. A few months ago then a missile destroyed his house.

In the midst of this sea of ​​tragedy, what particularly strikes us is that all of them, at the end of each meeting, always thank God: “Thank God we are alive – they tell us – and we can still hope”. And then they thank us for our visit, they thank ATS and the Franciscans for the help that for many of them is really vital. Ours have not forgotten them and our continuous accompaniment is already a reason to hope, to continue living.

Support the families from Idlib!

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