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As the Syrian civil war eases Christians are trying to rebuild in the face of an uncertain future.  The conflict has claimed more than half a million lives.  More than 11 million people have fled their homes; half of them have left the country.  Few have returned. In neighbouring Jordan, which hosts more than 1 million Syrian refugees, only a few thousand have returned to their homeland in the five months since the opening of a vital border crossing between the countries.  Those who decide to go back find that the persecution is still there.  They disappear in the prison system or are conscripted into the army.

Many Christians fled the violence when Islamic State swept into the country and seized villages and cities.  Before 2011, Syrian Christians comprised around 8-10% of a 22 million population, a 2017 report said 80% of those Christians have left.  Among those who remained is pastor Abdallah, a father of two who runs a church in Aleppo, 370km north of Damascus.  He and his wife had the choice to leave Syria at the start of the war but said they had to stay and do the best they could for their congregation.  “There were tough times”, he said.  Three church members were kidnapped by rebels because of their faith, he said, and at one point the church was surrounded by heavy fighting.

“Men are forced to join the army, and many either escape to other countries or remain hidden at home with depression, he said.  Wives have been left to carry the load of earning income and raising children.  The exodus of youth has left a hole in the social infrastructure that kept Aleppo working: many older people are now without the children who would have taken care of them and the church is aging.  Maronite Bishop of Damascus, Samir Nassar said the young have not entirely abandoned Syria.  A Syrian teenager quoted by Catholic news site Zenit said: “I love my city, especially its churches, where you can see how badly our people have fought to lead good lives”.

Gabi Korajian, 18, lived with his family in Aleppo before the war.  They fled to Damascus; two of his brothers were killed in the war.  “My family suffered enormously, and I could do nothing to help them.  “I am now studying in Damascus, and I hope to become one of the greatest surgeons in the world.  I have always wanted to be a doctor and help keep people alive”.  Questions remain about the fate of kidnapped Christians, including the three members of pastor Abdallah’s church.  The Lebanese newspaper al-Akhbar suggests the men are being held by Islamic State militants in Baghouz, their last stronghold in Syria.

“The media tend to focus on high-profile church leaders, however many ordinary Christians are also missing after being abducted or disappearing during IS occupation”, Henriette Kats, analyst at the World Watch Research unit of Open Doors said.  “It is possible that they have long been moved outside of this area”.  Meanwhile, pastor Abdallah is trying to help the Aleppo community rebuild. His main problem is securing long-term funding.  “Other NGOs are stopping aid to Syria and many are suffering”, he said.  He also has heard that banks have stopped transfers, and feels that the media doesn’t seem to shed much light on the difficult situation citizens are enduring.

Source: World Watch Monitor