Syria: Dutch priest trapped in Homs says residents going mad with hunger
A Dutch priest trapped in the siege on the Syrian city of Homs has told how residents around him are being driven mad with starvation, as they are “abandoned” by the international community.
Father Frans Van der Lugt, a 75-year-old Roman Catholic and local leader in the besieged Old City in Homs, told of his community’s battle for survival in two years of living in a district brutalised by war and without food.
“Our city has become a lawless jungle,” said Fr Van der Lugt. “We are trying our best to behave in a fraternal way, so that we don’t turn on each other for the hunger.”
Fr Van der Lugt spoke to Telegraph by Skype after posting a video online in which he appealed to the outside world for help, from a rebel held district of Homs that has been sealed off by Syrian government troops.
For more than one year, no food has been allowed in, and no one is allowed out.
Efforts to negotiate access for humanitarian aid at last week’s UN-brokered peace talks at Geneva failed. Now said Fr Van der Lugt, food has run out.
“Infants are suffering the most,” he said. “Nursing mothers can’t feed their babies as they are too weak from hunger. We search everywhere for milk, and when we find it we mix it with water.”
A few years ago, starvation would have seemed an impossible prospect for residents of Homs. A thriving commercial city, it was famous in Syria for its food and for its people’s good sense of humour.
In many government held parts of the city, life continues, almost as normal. However, just a few hundred meters away from these areas, in the Old City enclave, from which every exit is blocked by Syrian army tanks and sniper positions, hunger has already begun claiming lives. At least eight people have died of starvation, locals have reported.
A new video, posted from inside the siege records two boys, their cheeks sunken and with dark rings under their eyes from malnutrition, listing what they have eaten in the last few weeks.
“We just have olives at home,” says one of the boys, adding that it has been a long time since they have seen anything else.
The children speak to the camera whilst standing in an ally whose buildings are charred. Blocks of cement, gauged out of walls by shelling attacks lie strewn on the road. Gunfire rattles loudly in the near distance – a reminder that the hunger comes on top of dealing with daily artillery strikes and gun battles.
Fr Van der Lugt, who is also a trained psychotherapist, said that, already suffering extreme stress from the war, hunger has begun “turning people insane”.
“Some people are now suffering from mental illness; neurosis, panic attacks, psychotic and schizophrenic episodes and paranoia,” he said.
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