Advocates for Christian minorities in the Middle East called for an end to international economic sanctions against Syria on Tuesday at the International Religious Freedom Summit held in Washington, DC.
“I am filled with anguish after witnessing the desperate starvation affecting my people,” Syriac Archbishop Jean Kawak said at a panel led by the humanitarian aid and advocacy group, A Demand for Action (ADFA).
“Starving innocent children suffered the most,” he said.
“Sanctions against Syria are misdirected — they have created an environment in which it is impossible to thrive or survive, the Archbishop added before issuing a plea for action.
“I am begging you, for all the Syrian children, no matter your religion, please do it now, save the children’s lives now.”
Effects of sanctions on Syrian population
Following the civil war in Syria, in 2011 the European Union, the United States, Canada, Australia, and Switzerland issued economic sanctions against the Syrian government to punish and prevent violence against its civilian population.
The sanctions have put a freeze on trade and an embargo on the oil sector of the country, actions which have had an enormous impact on the Syrian population.
According to Caritas International, a confederation of Catholic relief organizations, 90% of the Syrian population has fallen into poverty, a third of the population has fled the country, and 12.4 million people do not have reliable access to food and heating.
Media misses the story
A reign of terror conducted by ISIS from 2014 to 2016 further decimated the population. The effect of sanctions and genocide threaten the very existence of the Christian population. In 2001 there there were 1.5 million Christians in Syria. Today there are fewer than 500,000.
Susan Korah, a Canadian journalist and Syriac Christian who has written frequently about the plight of Christian minorities and refugees, said that “too little attention” has been paid by the Western media to the issue.
“If the media has missed the story, they have missed a very big story,” she said.
“We have the power to get our politicians to act. If not, the “cradle of Christianity’ will become the graveyard of Christianity.”
Syria’s suffering adds to Lebanon’s
ADFA founder Nuri Kino, a Swedish journalist and author, noted that economic sanctions are harming an economically crippled Lebanon as well. He said that that every day trucks loaded with food, medicine and gas are being smuggled from Lebanon to Syria.
“Sanctions definitely must be lifted to also save Lebanon,” he said.
In addition to the lifting of sanctions, panelists called for increased aid to refugees, and asylum for those who fled genocide.