'Forgotten catastrophe' of Syria's 11-year war deplored by Catholic envoy

(Photo: Paul Jeffrey / WCC)Syrian refugees walk in the countryside outside Messstetten, Germany on Oct. 24, 2015. They had applied for asylum in Germany and were awaiting word on the government's decision. Meanwhile, they lived in a room in a former army barracks in Messstetten, where church groups and other community members provided a variety of hospitality.

As much of the world's attention is turned toward the COVID-19 pandemic and the crisis in Ukraine, the conflict that has engulfed Syria for 11 years has been largely forgotten, says the Vatican's representative in Syria.


Cardinal Mario Zenari said in an interview with Vatican News that it was "sad to see, repeated in Ukraine, the same harrowing images of pain seen in Syria".

He cited: "homes destroyed, deaths, millions of refugees, the use of unconventional weapons such as cluster bombs, the bombing of hospitals and schools. Seeing the exact same descent into hell as seen in Syria."

In Geneva on March 18, the head of the UN commission said that Syrians will confront additional hardship due to the Ukraine crisis.

Paulo Pinheiro, who chairs the International Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic, presented a report to the 49th UN Human Rights Council session being held until April 1 in Geneva, as Syria entered the 11th year of its conflict.

He said the country faces the fight against coronavirus with "very weak medical facilities to face a pandemic."

He said more than 90 percent of the remaining population in Syria is living in poverty, with 12 million food insecure and an unprecedented 14.6 million in need of humanitarian access.

Meanwhile, in an interview with Vatican News published March 16, Cardinal Zenari said the 11th anniversary of the war was "a sad anniversary, first of all, because the war is not over yet and also because for a couple of years now, Syria seems to have disappeared from the media radar.

"First the Lebanese crisis, then COVID-19, and now the war in Ukraine have taken its place."


The war in Syria – a conflict that has led to half a million deaths – began 11 years ago, on March 15, 2011.

"Don't let hope die," said Zenari, the Apostolic Nuncio to Syria, as he continued to denounce violence, poverty and neglect.

According to a March 15 report by the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an estimated 610,000 people have died in the conflict.

More than 2.1 million people have been injured and an estimated 13 million have either fled or have been displaced within the country.

Cardinal Zenari said hope was "gone from the hearts of so many people," especially young people, "who see no future in their country."

"A nation without young people, and without qualified ones at that, is a nation without a future," he said. "The Syrian catastrophe is still the most serious man-made humanitarian disaster since the end of the Second World War."

The Italian cardinal said the protracted nature of the conflict, coupled with current events in other parts of the world, have not only "turned the attention of the international community elsewhere," but also the attention of the media.

"Until a couple of years ago, I used to receive phone calls from various parts of the world for interviews and information on the Syrian conflict," he said. "Now the phone is no longer ringing. This is another great misfortune that has happened to Syria: falling into obscurity. This obscurity is hurting people a lot."

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