Throughout August and September 2015, thousands of Syrians and other refugees have moved through the Keleti station in Budapest, Hungary, in transit to other European countries. (Kristof Holvenyi for Jesuit Refugee Service)
(Aleppo) October 23, 2015 — Jesuit Refugee Service Syria national director Fr Nawras Sammour S.J. talks about what daily life in Syria is like. Impossibly high prices for food and water, daily blackouts and destroyed homes are all too common. He explains why Syrians flee, why they need safe and legal paths to access asylum in Europe, and above all, why they desperately need peace in order to rebuild their lives and their country.
What is daily life in Syria like for people right now?
Aleppo. Apart from the besieged areas, the most difficult situation is in Aleppo, because there is a shortage of everything. It is really difficult to get anything. The majority of families depend on assistance from different organizations. Malnutrition affects everybody.
There is a shortage of drinkable water. People have to buy drinkable water in tanks and they pay three Syrian pounds for one liter. One family of four needs at least 1,000 liters per week, so this means people pay 12,000 Syrian pounds ($64) per month for water. Plus 8,000 ($42) for a generator, besides all the expenses of daily life.
People also suffer constant fear of mortar attacks. Mortars can reach anywhere so people are afraid to send their children to school, so people remain inside their houses. The heavy rockets in the Christian neighborhood in Aleppo caused people to move into shelters. They lost everything and now they are renting one or two rooms for 20-30,000 Syrian pounds ($106-$159), which is the average salary of a teacher.
People sold everything to survive; rings, jewels, accessories, cars. Those who had savings are running out of money. People cannot afford normal life any more. This is why they are forced to move out. Some families chose to stay until the school ended, the same for young people who attend university, but many chose to leave.
Homs is the “calmer” city for people who are internally displaced (IDPs) who want to return. Many people have lost everything and are not able to rebuild their houses due to lack of money, so they do not return home.
It is difficult for people to move around in Homs. During the day kids can go to school, even though schools are packed, and most of the schools in major cities were damaged by mortars. At night, however, it is difficult to go out; there is no security, and one can be kidnapped.
Food is very expensive. The salary of a teacher is around 35,000 Syrian pounds. A kg of meat is 2,500-3,000 Syrian pounds ($13-$16). So one salary is only 13 kg of meat. Families can only eat meat once or twice a month.
Damascus. We have at least 16 hours of daily blackout, but we do not pay for generators, because 8 hours of electricity is enough for laundry or shaving.
Again, life is too expensive. The food prices in Damascus are comparable to the rest of Syria, yet we have drinkable water only once every two or three days, which is at least enough to survive.
Schools and universities which are not damaged are running. But two weeks ago ten students were killed by mortars in the Faculty of Engineering of the University of Damascus.
There is fighting not too far from the center of Damascus. The highway to Homs is blocked, so one needs to go around to reach Homs.
Are there many movements of internally displaced persons?
People are moving to Damascus and the coastal area regularly, looking to survive. The majority are fleeing from Daesh areas where you cannot stay unless you accept the Daesh ideology, and hardly anyone is able to live with them. Furthermore, these areas are frequently bombarded and not safe.
Do you see light for the future?
We are in a period of uncertainty. But what is clear is that the solution is beyond the capacity of Syrians. Peace must be achieved at the regional and international levels, not at country level. No Syrian citizens are able to solve the situation. People are tired. The conflict has reached a point which is bigger than the capacity within Syria.
Who should be included in the negotiations?
We cannot solve the problem without all the elements which created the problem. We need to integrate everyone. We cannot exclude anyone, except those who exclude others.
Is there a prophetic role of the Church?
I think the prophetic role can be seen in small gestures and initiatives. People of good will are still doing a lot. Many communities and organizations, not only JRS, are able to reach to the most vulnerable with basic necessities and food. Young religious and lay people are still committed to helping people. We saw these little groups and initiatives growing from the beginning of the war. Now, given the difficulty of the situation, there are fewer, but they are still present.
The war and the loss of everything has been an opportunity to spread greater awareness by some Church leaders. Many people converted after they lost everything; some have really changed.
Do you think Christians should stay or should leave?
This is a question of personal freedom.
What is your vision for Syria?
Syria will not be the same as before. We are in the phase of a new Syria. Let us do everything so that it will be a renewed Syria, worthy of its history, and which will be an inclusive Syria as it once was. My hope is that the new Syria reflects its beauty as the bridge between the East and the West, multi-cultural and multi-religious, as it was before the war.
This is my hope. In this inclusive vision, there is no room for those who exclude others.
by Amaya Valcárcel
Jesuit Refugee Service International Advocacy Officer