Three months after Islamic State (IS) militants took over the city of Mosul, causing many thousands of people to flee, Open Doors worker Sara* travelled to the Kurdish town of Erbil to visit refugee camps where local churches are providing aid with the support of Open Doors.
“I visited a number of camps in the Christian neighbourhood of Ankawa,” she said. “There I saw that some people are trying to make something of their lives, while others are still in shock.
“People are severely traumatised: they have lost everything. Often they are fleeing for the second, third or even fourth time. One man told me, ‘Of my 58 years, I have lived only eight years in peace. Sometimes I wish my parents had never brought me into the world.’
“For many Christians, this is the limit. They want to leave, almost without exception. At the same time, it is very difficult actually to leave the country: you will first have to spend a few years in Turkey or Jordan, for example, before you can move on to Europe or the USA. Besides this, emigrating costs stacks of money. Most Christians know that they will simply never be able to afford it.
“Many are living in unfinished blocks of flats or shopping centres. There are also people who have been camping in church halls for months, with only a few chairs as partitions. The lack of privacy and quiet makes many traumatised refugees additionally vulnerable.
“We saw that many churches are providing shelter, but also offering spiritual help and distributing food, medicines and mattresses. Together with refugees, they set up distribution points and try to share out emergency aid as fairly as possible. This is quite a task when you think that in a big city, you are dealing with tens of thousands of refugees.”
We asked Sara how workers like her can help Christians who are so traumatised. “Mainly by being there,'” she says, “by showing them that they are not forgotten. I showed photos and videos of people in the West who are praying for Iraq. People feel greatly strengthened by this. Besides the emergency aid, we are also looking to see how we can set up a professional programme through our partners to help people come to terms with trauma.
“We are praying that this lasting presence of Christian refugees in the town will not lead to tensions. And on a practical level, winter is approaching. Fortunately now people are working hard to build accommodation that is resistant to rain and cold, but we are preparing for a vast need for winter aid. The crisis in Iraq is going to last a very long time.”
*Name changed for security reasons
Source: Open Doors
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