by Linda Unger
“The situation in Iraq and Syria is extremely complex,” Paganini said. “The beauty of UMCOR is, because of the values we ascribe to—impartiality, independence, humanity, and neutrality—the only thing that matters is human suffering. If somebody is suffering, we’re called to be there—as UMCOR and as an extension of The United Methodist Church.”
The complexity and intensity of the conflicts in Iraq and Syria have only been compounded by the emergence of the Islamic State (known variously as IS, ISIS, or ISIL). But, Paganini cautioned, IS does not comprise the totality of those conflicts. Nor, he said, should we assume that bloodshed in Iraq or Syria was or remains inevitable.
In Syria, conflict began peacefully in March 2011 with local pro-democracy protests. Over the course of the next four years, these protests burgeoned into nationwide civil war and then became a theater of international conflict involving IS, the United States, and regional powers.
The toll has been great. As of June 2015, more than 220,000 people had been killed, about a million injured, and more than half the Syrian people had been displaced from their homes, according to the United Nations.
Over the span of the conflict, the UN reported, Syria’s development has regressed nearly four decades. The economy has contracted by about 40 percent, school attendance is down by 50 percent, and an estimated three out of every four Syrians now live in poverty—54 percent in extreme poverty.