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"This country needs much more than peace," EP conference on Syria underscores

On Wednesday, April 3, 2019, the European Parliament in Brussels hosted a conference on the future of Syria, beyond the still ongoing civil conflict that has been shaking this country for the past 8 years. The main contributors were representatives of the various Christian communities present in the region, which are already heavily involved in organising humanitarian assistance for the millions of civilians affected by the fighting. They were joined by high-ranking EU officials working on, or particularly interested in, the process of reconstructing this country.

Opening the event, Mairead McGuiness, first Vice-President of the European Parliament, and responsible for the EP's dialogue with churches, religions and non-confessional organisations, commented that "resilience" is an unsatisfactory word, given the already very long suffering of the people in Syria. "Perhaps it is precisely faith that keeps them alive, after 8 years of war and immeasurable losses. The efforts of the citizens of the European Union and its institutions have to look beyond immediate humanitarian needs, in order to provide medium and long term strategies, especially since children and young people are the most affected", she added.

The first session, on humanitarian aid, presented the ongoing efforts of faith based communities in the region to alleviate the suffering of the people affected by the conflict, in both Syria and some of the neighbouring countries. The Very Reverend Archimandrite Moses Alkhassi, from the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch, detailed the humanitarian activity developed by the local Church regarding medical care and assistance for all people, and in particular children and elderly people. The Church is equally active in education, reconstruction work, as well as in assisting people in administrative procedures, given the often dysfunctional State apparatus. Another of the panelists, Jean-Louis de Brouwer, Director for Europe, Eastern Neighbourhood and Middle East in the European Commission Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection, stated that Syria needs much more than peace, bringing attention to the fact that reconstruction needs are enormous, after entire cities have been destroyed in the military confrontations. Yet, he made it clear that the EU will only get involved in reconstruction efforts after a stable political solution to the current conflict will be put in place.

The second session went beyond the immediate needs and dealt more with the medium and long term plan for reconstruction. Among others, Rev. Fr. Andrzej Halemba, Head of Projects for the Middle East in the Pontifical Foundation "Aid to the Church in Need", expressed the need for a coherent plan of peace-building, that would include measures to build up a social infrastructure which would guarantee stability. "We'll have to start from rebuilding homes and ensuring educational opportunities, providing security guarantees for those who return, as well as decent medical care," he said. Rev. Halemba also touched upon the delicate mater of international sanctions currently in place for Syria, which, he claimed, "are very badly affecting the civilian population and some of them should be lifted immediately, like those imposed on food and medicines."

The event was organised by the EPP Group for Intercultural and Religious Dialogue, in cooperation with CROCEU (Committee of the Representatives of the Orthodox Churches in European Union), COMECE (Commission of the Bishops' Conferences of the European Union), and CEC (Conference of European Churches).

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