Syrian Christians’ strong roots prevent them from fleeing

Two millennia of ties to their homeland keep Syria's Christian population from fleeing en masse, according to Aleppo’s Melkite Catholic Archbishop Jean-Clement Jeanbart.

Speaking in Washington as part of a visit to raise awareness and funds for his ‘Build to Stay’ initiative, which aims to help Syrian Christians rebuild their lives and livelihoods, he said whereas $500,000 might buy a small apartment in Washington, the same money in Syria could provide homes for 100 families.

Such families often seek his advice on whether they should remain in their homeland or flee the brutal civil war that has ravaged Syria for over four years. About 40,000 have left Aleppo, he said, tending not to go to refugee camps but to quieter cities, to family in nearby countries, or, failing that, to European countries like Germany and Sweden.

"I feel that once they go so far, they will never come back," he said, pointing out that Syria “has been our land for 2,000 years”, but admitting that “just saying, ‘Don't go, stay,’ is banal”, he said  unless there is something worth making Christians stay.

Lamenting the ready availability of weapons in Syria and blaming Turkey for allowing arms to flow freely across its borders to Islamic State, he nonetheless said he believed more arms would be needed to stop Islamic State, although peace would only come, he said, when “everybody is tired” of fighting and ready for dialogue.

The archbishop’s visit to the U.S. was sponsored by Aid to the Church in Need, which has committed $2.8 million in emergency aid for Syria's Christians.