SYRIA has been in the news lately because of the hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees trying to enter Europe and begin new lives there. Crossing the border north to Turkey, Syrians have been sailing on rickety boats west across the Aegean Sea to Greece, then travel, often by foot, north through the Balkans to Hungary, Austria, Germany, and the rest of Western Europe.
Last September, the picture of a Syrian boy whose body was washed back to a beach in Turkey, brought the migrant crisis to international attention and drew worldwide sympathy. The nations of Europe cannot very well accept all who seek asylum for they have limited resources to accommodate the masses of refugees from Syria and a number of other nations in the Middle East and Africa.
Last Friday, officials of several nations met in Vienna, Austria, in a move to get to the root of the refugee problem – the fighting between the Syrian government and an array of opposing forces, including the Islamic State which has spread to Iraq. The United States, along with Saudi Arabia, has been helping some of these opposing forces. But Russia, along with Iran, has been helping the government of King Bashar al-Assad.
With such powerful forces ranged against one another, there is no wonder that the Syrian conflict continues to rage to this day, causing the hapless Syrian people to stream out of their homeland to seek new lives elsewhere in the world.
It will be the first time at the Vienna conference that the two most powerful countries in the Middle East – Saudi Arabia and Iran – will be meeting. They will be joined by ten other nations, among them the US, Russia, Turkey, Egypt, Iraq, Qatar, Lebanon, and the European Union. It is said that the principal issue blocking agreement is whether King Assad is to remain in power, with Russia and Iran supporting him, and every other nation on the other side.
Our hopes go with the peace talks in Vienna, for we remain concerned about the plight of the thousands of families seeking safety and a new life in Europe. Syria may seem such a remote country to us in the Philippines, but Filipino Christians know that Syria has a special place in the history of their faith; it was on the road to Damascus in Syria that St. Paul first heard the call of Christ and decided to follow it.
The Vienna conference will look for a political solution to the ongoing war in Syria. It is not an easy task but all possible efforts for peace must be exerted – for stability in the entire Middle East and for an end to the ordeal that countless Syrian and other refugees are now enduring.