Iraq: Refugee Crisis Is Overwhelming to Field Worker
“The suffering we see is unbelievable and it makes me cry every time I see something, either by visiting families or by the horrible pictures we see,” says one of the field workers Open Doors is partnering with in violence-wrecked Iraq.
Louis Sako, the archbishop of Iraq, told Aid to the Church in Need that currently approximately 70,000 Christians have arrived in Ankawa, a Christian neighborhood in Erbil, and 60,000 displaced people in Dohuk.
Open Doors workers who are in Erbil report that by far most of the displaced people they meet fled from Mosul, Qaraqosh and other towns and villages on the Nineveh plain. The cruel violence of fighters of the Islamic State (IS) forced Christians, Yezidis and other people groups to leave their homes after being threatened with death if they did not convert to Islam.
In response to the sectarian violence and subsequent humanitarian needs, Open Doors has stepped up its work in the region, making funding available for relief to the many Christian refugees and other Iraqis who are in dire need of support.
The Open Doors field worker explains the approach in offering relief: “Seeing what is necessary, at present we provide food parcels, containing basic non-perishable foods such as noodles, cooking oil, beans, canned fish and rice. Next to this we also distribute hygiene kits which contain toothbrushes and toothpaste, soap and disinfectants.”
Most families are four or five individuals. The materials Open Doors hands out, in partnership with churches and other Christian organizations, are sufficient for about a week.
The Islamic State terrorists have no mercy for those who have a different doctrine or ethnicity. “Convert, leave or die’ is the message often heard by Shia Muslims, Yezidis, Shabaks, Turkmen, Christians and other people groups. With the cruelty shown in videos and photos, these threats have proven they should be taken very seriously, since men, women and children are killed unmercifully.
With such a high influx of Internally Displaced People (IDPs) in Erbil, houses of relatives are full with families. Churches are running out of space to host more people. The field worker comments: “When the church is full, the people go into other buildings or the halls of the church. If these are full too, then the people flow over into the gardens or courtyard of the church. Also, several floors of buildings under construction are taken over by refugees as a place to stay. They are everywhere!”
One of Open Doors’ local partners reported this weekend: “Yesterday, we distributed packages to approximately 600 families. When being there, I was deeply shocked to witness the seriously poor conditions these people have to live in. One church hall, for example, housed about 200 individuals, lined wall to wall on thin mattresses. They even told me that in the past week two babies were born here. Tomorrow we are planning to hand out relief materials to another 500 families and in the next days to come we will continue this pattern.”
Many Christians are extremely discouraged by this new wave of violence. Over the course of the past five to 10 years, some families have fled Mosul several times.
“I have spoken to several who want to leave Iraq now,” the field worker says. “But there are not a lot of places they can easily go to as I heard that Turkey is trying to keep its borders closed to Iraqi citizens. The Iraqis are losing hope that anything will change. The thing for the fellow Christians around the world to do now is to pray. Pray that God will make Himself known to the many who are now wondering if He will ever help. Pray for a change.”
For more information on the crisis in Iraq and Syria, and to donate, go to www.OpenDoorsUSA.org.
Iraq: Making Refugees Feel Welcome in Midst of Misery
Lydia will write about the situation in Iraq while she is there for a short time on behalf of Open Doors. She is in Iraq to support the local team and to get in touch with Open Doors partners. But she is also there to bring the people she meets the message that they are not forgotten.
After having arrived in a hotel in Erbil, I’m looking down from the window of the hotel on a tent camp. The tents in the yard of the Chaldean Catholic church are housing refugees, most of them probably from Mosul. Behind me in the hotel room is a grand bed and because of the heat, the air conditioning is buzzing.
The contrast is huge. At the other side of the road, the tents are setup in the burning hot sun. Temperatures easily reach 113 degrees. People seek shelter in the shadow of trees, or sit underneath pieces of tarpaulin, tightened between some tents.
I asked myself what I am doing here. Can I really have any significance? I feel myself intruding in their situation. Who am I that I can just have a glimpse and see their sadness, their needs, the loss or even bereavement, while I’m going back after a while to my safe country and home?
I notice that doubt sets in very quickly.
Then I realize God is much bigger than that. We are here for a purpose. And a good one. We can provide churches and partners with the right means, so they can help thousands of displaced people with humanitarian aid, like food, water, toiletries, mattresses and much more.
We also have the opportunity to let the refugees know that people all over the world are praying for them. That they are not alone in this battle, but that in our prayers we are right next to them.
I believe the fear which is spread by the Islamic State (IS) is opposed by God.
This morning I read an encouraging message of a colleague; “I’ll pray to you Psalm 91:9-11: Yes, because God’s your refuge, the High God your very own home, evil can’t get close to you, harm can’t get through the door. He ordered His angels to guard you wherever you go.”
We wouldn’t be acting like God’s children if we let ourselves be talked down and be afraid. So I will go downstairs, cross that street and tell them they are loved and being prayed for.
To my surprise, I am welcomed in a great stir of things. Pastor Douglas of the Chaldean church is inflating little swimming pools for the children. The pools are filled with water so the children can cool down a little bit, have some fun and keep up their spirits. At the same time a group of people is standing in a line to receive shoes that are handed out by workers of the church.
Only several minutes later, Pastor Douglas is arranging some games for the men, such as a tug-of-war competition, which was hilarious because the rope was too thin. When the two teams started pulling, both teams landed on their backs when the rope snapped.
Pastor Douglas tells me that his purpose is to keep the people busy, so there will not be much time to worry. He wants to make the people feel welcome; to give them the feeling like this is just their home for hopefully a short period of time. He does not want to call it a refugee camp. And it is working! I see smiling faces all around me. Even my own heart is lifted up.