Open Doors running worldwide ‘Save Syria’ campaign as exodus reaches Rwandan proportions
A new report by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, released by Open Doors USA, estimates there have been more than 100 000 casualties since the civil war started in 2011. The death total includes 5 000 children under the age of 16.
The United Nations office of the Special Representative of the Secretary General for Children and Armed Conflict says it has received verified reports “that Syrian children are killed or injured in indiscriminate bombings, shot by snipers, used as human shields or victims of terror attacks.” The office reports boys as young as 10 are used by armed groups to work as combatants and porters.
The United Nations also reports that 1.3 million Syrian refugees have fled to neighbouring countries and 4.2 million persons are displaced inside the country, half of whom are children.
“We have not seen a refugee outflow escalate at such a frightening rate since the Rwandan genocide almost 20 years ago,” Antonio Guterres, the UN’s High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), said at a UN Security Council briefing, according to ABC News.
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Open Doors USA spokesman Jerry Dykstra says, “Not only do the children face the daily violence of civil war, but they are also the targets of persecution, including kidnapping, because they are Christians.”
Open Doors is currently running a worldwide ‘Save Syria’ campaign and is calling on people to stand with the Church in Syria by signing a petition and supporting them through prayer.
Syria is ranked No. 11 on the Open Doors 2013 World Watch List of the worst persecutors of Christians.
“As the Syrian civil war enters its third year, the human cost of the conflict is growing exponentially,” according to a factsheet prepared by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), a government advisory body that monitors freedom of conscience, thought and religious belief, reports Baptist Press.
The factsheet, “Syria’s Refugee Crisis and its Implications,” was produced after USCIRF conducted a fact-finding mission as part of a UN-led delegation that visited Egypt and Jordan. USCIRF interviewed refugees, government and UN officials and representatives from aid organizations.
Among the factsheet’s major findings:
- More than 90 percent of refugees registered with UNHCR identify themselves as Sunni Muslims.
- The percentage of religious minorities (such as Christians, Alawites and Yezidis) who have registered with UNHCR are disproportionately small compared to the Syrian population. Most religious minorities are reported to be taking shelter within Syria among co-religionists and in government-held areas. Most of those who do leave go to Lebanon or Turkey.
- Christians and Alawites are not registering with UNHCR because they fear reprisals from Sunni refugees who might suspect them of being government allies. Minorities also fear that if the current Syrian regime stays in power and they have to return, the government will view them as disloyal for having fled.
- Refugees must register with UNHCR to receive material assistance such as food, cash, education and health care. Since many religious minorities in rural areas cannot or do not register, they are left out.
- The massive flow of refugees is straining the already limited resources of neighboring countries. Iraq, Turkey and Jordan either have closed their borders or limited the daily intake of refugees.
- Refugees living in host countries outside of camps must contend with scarce housing and high rents, combined with social tensions from sharing resources and government services with native citizens.
“By the end of 2013, more than half of Syria’s population, over 10 million people, likely will need urgent humanitarian assistance,” the factsheet said.
Many of the country’s Christians who have not left face dangers at home. Youmna*, a 13-year-old Christian girl living in Damascus, remembered how shooting erupted near her school bus one day.
“[W]e all dived down, hiding under our seats, waiting until the shooting was over,” she told Open Doors.
Youmna’s sister Nashita*, 10, told Open Doors how the children at her school were herded into the basement as they waited to see if a nearby plane would bomb the building.
“My classmates and I were all very scared,” Nashita said. “Kids around me were crying and shouting at the teachers because they were so afraid. Some called their fathers, crying to them that they wanted to go home.”
As the violence rages on, Youmna and Nashita ask for prayers for their country. Youmna specifically mentioned children who have lost parents.
“A lot of our friends have no fathers anymore because they have been killed in war,” she said.