People escaping violence and oppression in Syria are to receive urgent help from a leading Catholic charity which is making a series of grants across a region now gripped by a bitter winter.
Aid to the Church in Need has approved an initial aid package of £130,500 to provide food, blankets and medicine for people struggling in below-freezing temperatures.
The aid, bound for refugees and displaced people in Syria, Jordan and Lebanon, will be distributed through parishes and dioceses, with the expectation of more ACN help to come.
ACN's announcement today builds on significant emergency help for the region given at regular intervals during 2012, when Christians and others were caught in the cross-fire and suffered deliberate attacks on their communities.
In making the latest round of aid payments, ACN has responded to appeals for help amid reports of up to four million people in Syria alone lacking food, shelter and clothes.
ACN projects staff reported receiving requests for aid from the northern Syrian city of Aleppo, which has suffered months of violence, and the so-called Valley of Christians (Wadi al-Nasara) near Homs, where the situation facing displaced people is of great concern.
With Vatican reports within the past month stating that more than 500,000 people have been fleeing Syria, refugee camps in Lebanon and Jordan are struggling to cope with the influx of people and need more help especially in the winter months.
ACN Middle East projects coordinator Fr Andrzej Halemba described the situation as "increasingly critical", adding that "the cold is hitting the people hard".
He said: "Syria's Christians live in fear. We get reports about how much the people are suffering from the fighting.
"The tension is almost unbearable. Syria's Christians do not have any prospects and their future in their own country is uncertain.
"They rely totally on the Church. That's why it's so important to distribute the aid through the structures of the Church."
Fr Halemba stressed that pastoral, religious support remained important in this time of humanitarian crisis.
He said: "We can't simply restrict aid to humanitarian matters. Food, medicine and blankets are important but as a Church pastoral charity we are also obliged to give the refugees religious sustenance and make ourselves available as pastors."
Source: Aid to the Church in Need