“Life is very hard. We cannot go on like this” – Interview with Fr Hilal from Aleppo
Fr Ziad Hilal first visited Malta last autumn when the fighting in Aleppo was at its peak. On his latest visit he spoke to Geraldine Griffiths from Aid to the Church in Need, Malta about the current situation in Syria.
ACN MALTA: 1.How has the situation changed since the ceasefire? Has it made any difference?
Fr Hilal: I would say yes, especially in the north of Syria, in Aleppo where I live now. After the evacuation of the rebels from East Aleppo in December 2016, the area became very quiet. People have a much more peaceful life now. They are able to get out of their houses, go to work, send their children to school and university. Security has become much better.
- What is life like now for people in Aleppo?
It is a hard life. We cannot go on like this, more than 3 years without electricity. People buy electricity from private individuals in their street who own big generators but this is expensive. We have tap water now for 1-2 hours daily so the water supply is better than before. Food is very expensive to buy. Six years ago, 1 US$= 45 Syrian pounds. Now 1 US$= 550 Syrian pounds so everything is much more expensive than before, ten times as much! But people’s salaries have not changed. That is why we have to provide help for the people.
- Has the number of refugees/displaced families increased or decreased in 2017?
Increased. People are still leaving Syria. They are afraid, they don’t see a future for Syria. We are receiving many displaced people in Aleppo now from Idleb, Raqqa and northern Syria who are fleeing from the fighting between the rebels, the army, Islamic State, Kurds and other groups. At the same time, people in Aleppo – Christians and Muslims – are leaving Syria and going to Europe, Canada and Australia because they are worried about their children’s future and their education.
- Have displaced people started returning to their homes?
Yes because a lot of humanitarian organisations are helping people to repair their homes. But east Aleppo is completely destroyed so we cannot easily rebuild houses; there is nothing left. It is a big problem. We encourage people whose apartments were damaged and can be repaired to return home. We can help them
- Has life improved for refugees in the camps and those made homeless by the conflict?
I don’t know if we can say it is better. Life is very hard for these displaced people. They have been waiting six years, not just a few months, for peace and reconciliation. It is not easy to live without houses, without our towns. The living conditions for refugees are still very bad today.
- Is aid getting to where it is needed or are there still major problems with distribution?
We are distributing aid to help the people. Our organisation, Aid to the Church in Need, is helping all the churches throughout Syria –Damascus, Aleppo, Homs, North Syria, Tartus. We provide food items, medicines, rent for housing, Distribution is not easy. We have many volunteers who help us but it can take a long time.
7.What do the people of Syria need most right now? How can we help them?
Our people need everything, but especially food. Many factories in Syria have been damaged or destroyed. We don’t have a lot of raw materials either. We have to import them but with the sanctions against Syria we can’t do that easily. We need medicines now because we don’t have the resources to make them in Syria. That is why we are asking other countries and the UN to help us.