7-year-old Syrian girl live-tweeting her life in Aleppo

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Bana is just 7 years old but she knows how to tweet.  A video posted on her Twitter account @alabedbana shows her back as she stands in front of a window, long hair flowing on a green jumper and fingers in her ears. Loud bombs can be heard in the distance, in the Aleppo night.

“Hello world, can you hear that?” she asks.

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“I am very afraid I will die tonight. This bombs will kill me now. – Bana,” she signs off.

Over the past few weeks, Bana Al-Abed and her mum Fatemah have offered a new, damning perspective on the daily life of those living under the bombs in Syria’s second city. Besieged Eastern Aleppo, controlled by rebel forces, has witnessed an unrelenting shower of bombs by Russian and Syrian military jets.

As the bombs fall, Bana and Fatemah send tweets.

One of the very first tweets depicted Bana at her desk with a book and her doll in the background. “Good afternoon from Aleppo,” the caption read. “I’m reading to forget the war.”

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Another photo showed the rubble of a bombed building and the caption: “This is my friend house bombed, she’s killed. I miss her so much.”

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Syrian children use bomb crater as makeshift swimming pool

Syrian children use bomb crater as makeshift swimming pool

Life under siege: Children in Aleppo use bomb crater as swimming pool

More than 2 million people in Aleppo have no access to clean water as the conflict in the Syrian city continues to escalate, according to UNICEF. But that hasn’t stopped some children from playing around in a murky pool that has formed in a crater left behind by a missile strike.

 

Syrian refugees share their stories and struggles in #IamSyrian campaign

Syrian refugees share their stories and struggles in #IamSyrian campaign

It has been five years since the beginning of the Syrian war.  In that time, 4.8 million Syrian refugees have become displaced around the world, with an additional 6.6 million people displaced within the country itself. Due to the ongoing conflict, many Syrians have lacked basic necessities like food, shelter and health care. But they also lack the ability to return home — the one thing many of those displaced want most.

Over five years, the mass displacement of Syrians has become an international conversation — and, at times, a fiery debate. Yet the debate over whether to aid refugees often glosses over something essential: humanity.

The statistics, after all, aren’t merely numbers. They represent lives in crisis.

A new campaign called #IamSyrian hopes to reframe the current narrative around the crisis, shifting the focus on those who need it most — Syrians themselves.

The campaign, launched by the World Food Programme at the London Syria conference in February, encourages social media users to use the hashtag #IamSyrian to draw attention to the stories and struggles of those who have been living through war.

The campaign also hopes to encourage a global conversation about what all nations and people can do to help end the crisis.

Gregory Barrow, head of the World Food Programme liaison office in London, said:

“We are now five years into the crisis in Syria, and we have to work harder to keep the world engaged with the issues behind the conflict and the basic needs of the millions of Syrians whose lives have been turned upside-down,”

“#IamSyrian provides an opportunity for people to show solidarity by sharing the stories of ordinary men, women and children who have been affected by war and, by doing this, demonstrating that the world still cares.”

The campaign will roll out new content and rally participation every month leading up to the U.N. General Assembly in September.  For the first stage of the campaign, the World Food Programme has released photos and stories of those most impacted by the conflict.

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Four years ago, Aliye heard the sound of rain in the middle of the night, so she asked one of her four daughters to gather the laundry hanging outside.

But her daughter responded, “No, it is not raining. They are dropping bombs.”

Two days later, Aliye’s family had to leave their home.

Displaced as a refugee for four years, Aliye still longs for the life she had in the city of Raqqa before the war — the stability, the familiarity, the community. Now, she says she can’t help but cry when she thinks of Syria and what she’s lost.

“If I had the choice, I would go back to Syria today,” Aliye says. “My tears won’t end until I go back home.”

 

Archbishop of Canterbury’s speech on Syria

Justin Welby - LordsArchbishop Justin Welby’s speech in today’s Lords debate on UK military intervention in Syria: 

My Lords I add to the welcomes to the Noble Lord, Lord Hague of Richmond, and note his perfect timing in bringing his immeasurable wisdom and experience to our debates, and look forward very much to his contribution.

The Just War criteria have to my mind been met. But while they are necessary, they are not by themselves sufficient in action of this kind – where we can end up doing the right thing in such a wrong way that it becomes the wrong thing.

To my mind there are three components which currently need more emphasis and to some extent are missing.

In this role, through visiting all 38 provinces of the Anglican Communion, through the constant contacts we have with Muslim and Christian leaders in the region – as recently as three weeks ago in a conference at Lambeth Palace – I am constantly reminded that this is a global issue, to which we are addressing local solutions.

ISIL is but one head of the Hydra: religiously-motivated extremism is not restricted to one part of the world.

Secondly, our bombing action plays into the expectation of ISIL and other jihadist groups in the region, springing from their apocalyptic theology. The totality of our actions must subvert that false narrative, because by itself it will not work.

If we act only against ISIL, globally, and only in the way proposed so far, we will strengthen their resolve, increase their recruitment and encourage their sympathisers. Without a far more comprehensive approach we confirm their dreadful belief that what they are doing is the will of God.

Thirdly, it is essential to defeat ISIL and other extremist narratives.

The Prime Minister’s strategy and the speech of the Noble Lady rightly recognised that military action is only one part of the answer. But there must be a global theological and ideological component – not just one in this country – to what we are doing, and it must be one that is relentlessly pursued and promoted.

And it must include challenging Saudi Arabia and Qatar, whose own promotion of a particular brand of Islamic theology has provided a source from which ISIL have drawn a false legitimisation.

It must also show clear support for global mainstream Muslim and other religious leaders.

Finally, there is room and requirement for greater generosity in our nation’s hospitality to refugees. But hospitality must be accompanied by a clear strategy that reduces the need for others to seek sanctuary – and that was in the Noble Lady’s remarks and was welcome – and enables those who have fled to return. The communities that have lived there for 2,000 years should not simply be emptied from that region.

The additional military force we are bringing to this quasi-policing operation already active over Syria, symbolically and to some extent significantly adds to what is happening there.

But far more than that, it enables us to act where our resources and expertise are world-leading: in the creation of post-conflict peace and nation-building.

Only a holistic, theological and global policy will achieve our aims.

Joint Church Statement on Syria

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The Baptist Union of Great Britain, the Church of Scotland, the Methodist Church in Britain and the United Reformed Church have released a joint statement on military action in Syria:

Our churches: –

  • Express our abhorrence of the actions of ISIS/Daesh in Syria and their support of terrorist actions elsewhere and bring before God in prayer all victims of recent terrorist attacks and the families and communities affected by these atrocities
  • Are grateful for the vital work of the security services in the UK in suppressing acts of terrorism
  • Note that regional partners and Syrian factions have differing and contrary interests and welcome the efforts of the Vienna peace process to gain agreement on an approach to countering terrorism and to search for a way forward for the political process in Syria
  • Are convinced that Daesh can only be defeated through a comprehensive economic, diplomatic and security strategy that has the involvement of all partners in the region and the full support of the UN Security Council
  • Assert that aerial bombing is unlikely to have a decisive role in defeating Daesh and that even the use of precision weaponry is likely to cause civilian casualties and trauma within communities
  • Urge the UN Security Council to call to account all parties in Syria who have committed crimes against humanity and call on the UK and its allies to avoid security strategies that are based on a reliance on those same militias
  • Suggest that any military support from the UK in Syria be contingent on a clearer endorsement by the UN Security Council that is unambiguous as to the legal basis for intervention
  • Call on our members to continue to pray for all who suffer as a consequence of more than four years of conflict, including refugees in the region and in Europe and also for those tasked with negotiating solutions and bringing security
  • Call on our members to reach out in love and solidarity to members of other faith communities, to challenge the divisive rhetoric that sets communities apart and to show the love of Christ by building bridges where there are fractures.

It then goes on to look at the wider context of their opposition to Daesh and others who promote terror

Diocese of Winchester launches dual appeal to support refugees from Syria and victims of flooding in Myanmar

The Diocese of Winchester has launched an appeal to raise money to support refugees from Syria and in Myanmar.

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Following the growing refugee crisis in Syria, the Diocese of Winchester is calling on people to support the fundraising efforts of Refugee Action, one of the UK’s leading refugee resettlement charities. Refugee Action has been working in the UK for over 30 years to support people fleeing from crises. At the moment the charity is helping to support refugees who have arrived in the UK by offering them safe places to stay, warm clothing and hot meals.

The Diocese is also appealing for donations to help those affected by the recent floods in Myanmar. Although less high profile than the Syrian crisis, many people in Myanmar have been killed and hundreds of thousands have been affected by devastating floods and landslides which have engulfed homes and cut off vast parts of the country. Many people have lost all their possessions and been forced into camps as their homes remain under water.

The Diocese is partnering with the Anglican Relief and Development Fund (ARDF) in its work to support victims of flooding in Myanmar. ARDF exists to empower Anglicans in the developing world to show the love of Christ to those in need in their own communities.

The Diocese of Winchester is calling on people in all its parishes to donate generously to these two very worthy causes.

If you would like to make a donation to either of these causes, please visit the Diocese of Winchester’s JustGiving page via the button below.

JustGiving - Sponsor me now!

To download prayers for Myanmar and the Syrian refugee crisis click Prayers.

Archbishop of Canterbury on the refugee crisis

In a statement on the refugee crisis facing Europe and the Middle East, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Revd Justin Welby, said today:

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“This is a hugely complex and wicked crisis that underlines our human frailty and the fragility of our political systems. My heart is broken by the images and stories of men, women and children who have risked their lives to escape conflict, violence and persecution.

“There are no easy answers and my prayers are with those who find themselves fleeing persecution, as well as those who are struggling under immense pressure to develop an effective and equitable response. Now, perhaps more than ever in post-war Europe, we need to commit to joint action across Europe, acknowledging our common responsibility and our common humanity.

“As Christians we believe we are called to break down barriers, to welcome the stranger and love them as ourselves (Leviticus 19:34), and to seek the peace and justice of our God, in our world, today.

“With winter fast approaching and with the tragic civil war in Syria spiralling further out of control, we must all be aware that the situation could yet worsen significantly.

“I am encouraged by the positive role that churches, charities and international agencies are already playing, across Europe and in Syria and the surrounding areas, to meet basic humanitarian needs. These efforts may feel trivial in the face of the challenge, but if we all play our part this is a crisis that we can resolve.

“We need a holistic response to this crisis that meets immediate humanitarian need while tackling itsunderlying drivers. I commend the UK Government for its strong commitment to the world’s poorest people through the delivery of the aid budget. It has shown global leadership by providing £900 million in aid since 2012 to the crisis in Syria. It has also shown moral leadership in using Royal Navy ships to save the lives of hundreds who have tried to make the dangerous crossing across the Mediterranean.

“I hold in my heart particularly those who are most vulnerable in conflict, and those who we have a special duty to protect. In the past, the Government has rightly sought to provide sanctuary to unaccompanied children, women and those who have been victims of, or are at risk of, sexual violence. I welcome this, while urging a renewed commitment to taking in the most vulnerable.

“The Church has always been a place of sanctuary for those in need, and Churches in the UK and across Europe have been meeting the need they are presented with. I reaffirm our commitment to the principle of sanctuary for those who require our help and love.

“The people of these islands have a long and wonderful history of offering shelter and refuge, going back centuries – whether it be Huguenot Christians, Jewish refugees, Ugandan Asians, Vietnamese boat people or many, many more.

“It has always been controversial at the time it happened, always been seen as too difficult. Yet each time we have risen to the challenge and our country has been blessed by the result.

“We cannot turn our backs on this crisis. We must respond with compassion. But we must also not be naïve in claiming to have the answers to end it. It requires a pan-European response – which means a commitment to serious-minded diplomatic and political debate, but not at the expense of practical action that meets the immediate needs of those most in need of our help.”

Listen to Archbishop Justin Welby speaking to the BBC about the refugee crisis

Cold Child at a Bus Stop

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This Norwegian ad placed a little boy without a coat at an Oslo bus stop to see what folks would do. When asked, he tells them that his coat was stolen on a school trip. At the end of the video, the purpose is made clear when viewers are told that children in Syria are cold; you can send them a coat. Redditor trondskij provided an English transcript.

Pope Calls for Day of Fasting and Prayer for Syria

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On Sunday, Pope Francis announced that the 7th September would be a day of fasting and prayer for Syria, a nation embroiled in a horrific civil war that has left hundreds of thousands dead.  Instead of his typical religious-themed sermon or Bible lesson, during his weekly message the Pope talked almost entirely about the conflict in the country.

Though he said he is praying for a peaceful resolution to the war without further military intervention, the Catholic Church leader spoke out against the recent chemical weapons attack that killed at least 1,400 people outside Damascus:

“With utmost firmness, I condemn the use of chemical weapons. I tell you that those terrible images from recent days are burned into my mind and heart.”

He warned that “violence brings on violence” and told leaders that “There is the judgment of God and also the judgment of history, upon our actions, from which there is no escaping.”