Four years after being forced to flee due to armed conflict, scores of Syrian Christians have started returning home to their native villages. Over 100 families resettled in their town of Kharaba in the Daraa governorate, Southwestern Syria, on 3rd May.
Kharaba was home to nearly 1,200 Christians prior to being taken by anti-government rebels in 2014. Most of the resident families fled to Damascus or neighbouring Suwayda as Muslim families moved into their homes. Then, in 2018, fighting stopped after Assad's forces retook the town and the Russians brokered a ceasefire. However, despite repeated requests from Kharaba's Christian community for resettlement assistance from the Government, they were repeatedly ignored.
According to Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), the believers eventually approached a local community leader and Russian-backed former rebel commander and, after months of negotiations and efforts to restore and repair homes and churches, they were able to return home. Incredibly, a celebratory ceremony was attended by both the Muslim and Christian communities in a wonderful show of peace.
Dr Khalid Almahameed, a businessman and politician from the region who led negotiations with the families, told CSW: “It was the right thing to do and I am pleased I was able to help, Christians are our brothers and sisters and we want to work together as Syrians towards a new Syria free from all forms of dictatorship and injustice.”
Another key negotiator, Mr Ayman Abdelnour, chair of the NGO Syrian Christians for Peace (SCP), said: “Syrians from all religious and ethnic backgrounds have suffered a lot. Dictatorship and extremism are inextricably intertwined, and Syrians deserve a better future.”
Despite this positive news, Syria is still plagued with violence and instability, with many Christians continuing to suffer immense hardship. Indeed, on 7th May, a local Christian man was abducted in Alyaqubiya village in Idlib countryside in northwest Syria. Mr Samir Mistrih is reportedly one of just a few Christians who remain in the region, which is currently under the control of various extremist Islamic militant groups. He vanished on his way to his garage, which is located just 100m from his home.
CSW’s chief executive Mervyn Thomas said: “While we welcome the news of Christian civilians returning to their homes in Kharaba, we are deeply concerned by the abduction of Mr Mistrih. We continue to urge all warring parties in Syria, including the Syrian and Russian authorities, to prioritise the protection of civilians, and call on the international community to assist Syrians in their efforts to achieve democratic reforms and sustainable peace in their country.”