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SOS Chrétiens d’Orient’ Director General: Syria is safe for tourists

Last Tuesday, a foreign delegation composed of 35 persons from Canada, France and Switzerland arrived in Syria for 8 days. The goal of the visit? Tourism.

It was the first visit to Syria for the most part of the group since the beginning of the terror war on the country in 2011, according to the Director General of SOS Chrétiens d’Orient Mr. Benjamin Blanchard, who emphasized that the tourist group was very surprised to see that Syria is still alive.

Mr. Blanchard has told the Syria Times e-newspaper that few of the tourist group’s members have visited Syria many times since 2015 with SOS Chrétiens d’Orient or with the travel agency Odeia, but it is the first tourist group to visit Bosra [Palmyra] after liberating it from terrorists.

“The group are very surprised

by the change during those last years, they see that the situation is going better and better. For example, we visited Bosra, Tartous, Maaloula, Salahedin castle. In fact, it was impossible to visit these sites during the last years because they were occupied by terrorist groups,” he said.

Mr. Blanchard, who was the leader of the tour which was organized by the French travel agency, Odeia means « travel » in ancient Greek language, indicated that the group’s members were very sad when they saw the destruction in Palmyra. “Nobody can understand how some people could do such horrible things against humanity. They were shocked when they saw some villages and cities destroyed by the terrorists and fights.

In 2015, SOS Chrétiens d’Orient (which means SOS Christians from the Middle East), organized the first tourist trip to Syria in order to show French people how amazing are the Syrian civilization and culture and to meet Syrian people and to see the reality of the situation.

“It was a great success and after that the travel agency Odeia asked us to help it to organize such tourist trips to Syria,” Mr. Blanchard said, referring to the fact that further archaeological sites are opened to tourists after the liberation of many areas in Syria by Syrian Arab army.

He added: “It is the 4th group sent by Odeia to Syria since 2016 (1 in 2016 and 2 in 2017). So, they put this trip in their catalog and people were very happy to see that it is possible to come to Syria. I think people are very confident because Odeia is a professional touristi company, so if they say it is ok to go to Syria, it means that it is enough safe.”

8 foreign tourist groups to visit Syria in 2019

“This year, the travel agency Odeia will organize 2 other groups in September and October. Another big French travel agency is going to organize 6 groups in 2019. So it is a big sign for French people that tourism is recovering in Syria. All those people who come to Syria (SOS volunteers, tourists) convey what they have seen when they return to their homeland, and step by step, the truth will be known by people in the west,” Mr. Blanchard asserted.

He made it clear that SOS Chrétiens d’Orient is a Non-Governmental Organization working with French and western volunteers in Syria since 2013 and it shows its works and volunteers on Face book and on all social networks and media.

“In five years, SOS sent more than 500 volunteers (mostly French plus some Italian, British, Irish and Polish…etc) from Europe to Syria to talk about the reality of the situation in this country when they come back to their homelands. So more and more people will be familiar with the reality of events in Syria,” Mr. Blanchard stated.

He indicated that SOS Chrétiens is working in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt and Pakistan since 2013. It has a partnership with Syria Trust for Development, chaired by Mrs. Asma Al-Assad.

« We are working for all the Syrian people. For sure we like helping them to rebuild their country but the most important for us is to live with Syrian people and to share with them their daily life and their sufferings... Actually, we have offices in Damascus, Aleppo and Homs but we work in all provinces (except where there are some terrorists groups), » SOS Director General stressed.

He underlined that one of the organization’s main project is to offer some medicaments to the Syrian hospitals. In 2017, the organization gave Euro 3 million donation (some 1737,5 millions Syrian pounds) and the same amount in 2018. We are working a lot to help the families to rebuild their houses, specially in Aleppo and Homs. We have furnished some floor lamps for the streets of the city center of al-Hassaka, with the help of the Governorate of  al-Hassaka and the Syrian Orthodox Church.

Mr. Blanchard, who visited Syria one time alone in 2015 and 3 times with Odeia in 2016 and 2017, concluded by saying: “I wish all the best to the Syrian people and I hope that all the country will be liberated very soon, and that more and more tourist groups will come from all over the world. Thanks a lot ! “

 

Interviewed by: Basma Qaddour 

 

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