OTTAWA (CCN) — As the civil war in Syria is poised to enter its seventh year in March, the humanitarian crisis continues unabated despite a recent ceasefire.
“A truce, a ceasefire, is not peace,” said Carl Hétu, national director of CNEWA (Catholic Near East Welfare Association) Canada. “Right now, Syria is such a big mess that the needs of the people will be great for the next several years, even if there were a peace accord tomorrow.”
“At least then we could start to build,” he said. “That’s not the case now. Now it’s still an emergency situation.”
“Not all opposition groups are negotiating with the regime,” he said. “Only a fraction of the rebel groups are negotiating, so we’re far from a serious peace in Syria.”
Though late last year government forces wrested control of eastern Aleppo from rebel hands, “it’s been very difficult to reach people,” he said. “It’s very tense right now on the ground and the infrastructures are gone.”
“We have a lot of people on the ground, the local church in particular who are very brave, doing best they can,” he said. “But they need permissions to go through checkpoints to get from one neighbourhood to another.”
“There are army people everywhere, to make sure there is no resistance, no rebels,” he said. That makes it “very complex to bring food to regular folks who are still in Aleppo.”
“The situation is pretty bad,” said Guy Des Aulniers, co-ordinator of humanitarian aid for the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace. In western Aleppo, the part that had remained under government control, Development and Peace partners run a medical clinic that is still receiving patients. They also have partners providing humanitarian relief in rebel held areas, he said.
The offensive on eastern Aleppo created many more displaced people who wonder what the future hold for them, Des Aulniers said.
“The battle continues in some parts of the country,” he said. Turkish forces with the help of the United States are trying to take back Raqqa, where ISIS has its headquarters. “In some areas there is still not access to humanitarian aid.”
On the bright side, Des Aulniers noted the Orthodox were able to celebrate Christmas mass in eastern Aleppo for the first time since rebels took over.
“We have to work to maintain this plurality in Syria,” he said. “It was one of the beauties of this country, Christians and Muslims able to live and work together.”
“We already know a lot of Christians have left,” he said. “People have to come back and to rebuild.”
Development and Peace is also working with refugees in Lebanon and Jordan. Nearly eight million people have been displaced within Syria, while 4.5 million refugees live outside.
Half of the country’s 22 million people have been uprooted because of the conflict, said Hétu.
Des Aulniers said Development and Peace is committed to projects in Syria for the next three to five years, with the main focus being humanitarian aid until peace allows for more development assistance.