Foreign weapons and a lack of funding are among the serious challenges facing humanitarian response efforts in the Middle East, said participants at a recent conference in Rome. Leaders of the Caritas Internationalis family met Sept. 15-17 to address the escalating crises throughout the Middle East and discuss a coordinated regional and international response. According to Caritas Internationalis secretary general Michel Roy, the conference was organized on short notice over the summer due to the “overwhelming” obstacles that have arisen throughout the region, most recently in Gaza and Iraq. One of these challenges, Roy told CNA, is the difficulty in acquiring the funds necessary to mobilize aid to those affected. “In front of man-made disasters, conflicts,” he said, “money is scarce. It’s difficult to raise funds. People are not interested in giving to victims of war. Alas! I understand! It would be better to stop the wars and to avoid having victims.” Another challenge that was frequently cited during the meetings is the provision of weapons by foreign powers to those involved in the conflicts. In contrast, Caritas is looking to mobilize efforts to promote peace within the region through negotiation and dialogue. “Instead of investing in arms,” Roy said, and “giving arms to whoever to entertain and fuel the war, [we ought to] give money to help the victims and at the same time work for peace. This is what he have to tell the governments.” Participants in the gathering also discussed the need for interfaith initiatives, taking into account that Christians in the Middle East are the minority. For instance, scores of Christians have left countries, such as Syria, of their own volition or been driven out, while many of those who cannot leave hope to do so. “For Christian communities to be able to remain in the Middle East, they have to be recognized, accepted, and even encouraged by others to stay,” Roy said. Among those present at the meetings were leaders of Caritas agencies from those nations where the crises are currently most severe, namely: Bishop Shlemon Warduni, president of Caritas Iraq; Caritas Jerusalem director Fr. Raed Abusahliah; and Bishop Antoine Audo, president of Caritas Syria. They were joined by representatives from Caritas agencies not only in neighboring countries, but those from North and South America, Europe, Asia, and Oceana as well. One of the main fruits of the gathering was the recognition that bilateral cooperation among the different Caritas entities throughout the world was essential, Roy noted, adding that the presence of the entire Caritas family, both those based in the Middle East and those abroad, demonstrated the “importance that everyone is giving to what is happening right now” in the region. The keynote speaker at the conference was former government minister Damianos Kattar from Lebanon, who suggested that the needs of those suffering in the Middle East are so overwhelming that meeting them may be impossible. According those speaking from regions where the situation is most severe, the humanitarian crisis in Iraq and Syria is expected to increase as the violence worsens and foreign governments continue to supply weapons. In addition to addressing the crises within the troubled areas — namely, Syria, Iraq, and Gaza — there is the added strain on neighboring countries involved in receiving the scores of refugees fleeing the violence. Omar Ankawi of Caritas Jordan told CNA that Jordan has been “responding to refugee crises since June 2011, when many fled from Syria. Now we have 390,000 Syrians.” The situation was further exacerbated with the outbreak of the Iraq war, with 1,000 people having fled from Mosul to Syria. Ankawi estimated that the number of refugees will triple by the end of the year. He added that Jordan is a country of “limited supplies of energy, of infrastructures, and so it needs the help of international community to sustain the refugees who are displaced in Jordanian territory.” “Jordan is facing a huge responsibility. With the current resources, Jordan can support and host refugees for six months, maximum eight, but then we have to find a more durable solution.”