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Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Caritas Intl on Mideast crisis: aid to victims, not militants

2014-09-17 Vatican Radio

Caritas Internationalis, the confederation of Catholic aid and development agencies wrapped up a high level meeting in Rome Wednesday discussing how to best respond to the humanitarian crises enveloping the Middle East.  The September 15-17 meeting brought together directors of country and regional Caritas offices in the nations most immediately affected by the conflicts: Syria, Iraq, the Holy Land, Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey, but also those of most other agencies in the global Caritas family.

Caritas Internationalis Secretary General Michel Roy says it is “rare” that they all can make meetings such as this week’s in Rome, “so it shows the concern of all” about what is happening in the Middle East.

Humanitarian tragedy unfolding

The meeting took place before a grim backdrop.  More than 13 million Syrians are in need of aid inside and outside of the country; this summer’s conflict in Gaza has left hundreds of thousands of people homeless and in need of healthcare, food, water and social services.  Despite a ceasefire that appears to be holding, no long term plan has been hammered out to end the cycle of Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  The resumption of violence in Iraq has forced over one million people from their homes.

 “We know that this violence will not come to an end soon; we don’t know how it is going to evolve,” observes Roy.  “Before the summer, nobody would have thought that Iraq would be in the state where it is now so there are plenty of things possible in that region that we don’t really know about.”

Programs, Funding, Advocacy, Communications

Delegates to the Caritas Internationalis meeting identified at least 3-4 areas in which  partner agencies need to focus in the mid and long term:  reinforcing aid and development programs and seeking more funding; advocacy, and improving interagency communication.

Besides their ongoing development programs, Caritas member organizations offer first emergency response for victims of the conflicts, explains Roy, but to do this, it takes money, and there’s not much being offered.  “We have to fundraise and the U.N. itself collects not even half, perhaps not even a third, of what is needed in the region so their programs are at stake.  And when we say a program is at stake, it’s peoples’ lives that are at stake.”

“Caritas organisations are overwhelmed as needs grow and resources shrink.  This is far beyond our capacity and anyone else’s.  A major move has to take place as we cannot accept that millions of people, whole societies, that used to live together in peace, are destroyed.”

International focus on weapons, not victims

 “The international community is focusing more on helping the rebels or helping this group or that group with arms, which have a very high cost, and not giving to help the victims of the wars that they’ve been supporting and sometimes fueling as well.  So there is something paradoxical there that we want to work upon,” says Roy.

“We are working on our response mechanisms and how to provide more and better service, providing trauma counselling besides food, shelter and clothing.  “Their souls also need to be accompanied.  People have to be taken care of holistically.”

Advocacy to end wars

One of the main issues raised at the Rome conference was the need for “advocacy so that these wars come to an end,” says Roy.  “It’s a huge challenge, maybe a new topic even but we are going to take it up still at our own level – not alone  of course – we’ve spoken of a lot of interreligious initiatives, of ecumenical initiatives, so we are going to see how we go forward on those but bringing together all the believers, believers in God and…because they believe in God, they believe that there is a peaceful solution to be found that brings people together and not to oppose people and confront people all the time.”

Advocacy with an “interreligious approach,” Roy suggests, will involve engaging Muslims, many of whom “do not support the violence so there is a strong basis in Syria, in Iraq for sure – in Palestine it’s a little bit of a different issue- but there is a strong basis to think anew and to think ahead so we have to engage.”

Caritas Internationalis partners also agreed on the need to come together more frequently to improve “synergy” and their communication strategy as a whole.

“This togetherness is very important, and the fact that we are all present - all actors in the Caritas family present (at this Rome meeting) - is a sign that we want to do it, and if we want to do it, we will do it.”


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