Samaritan’s Purse assists hundreds of Syrian families in northern Iraq who have fled the bloodshed in their homeland
For more than two years now, a fierce civil war has been tearing Syria apart. Forces loyal to the Ba’ath government and president Bashar al-Assad are battling with rebel factions seeking to grab control. Caught in the middle are innocent families who live in constant fear of violence.
“Airplanes flying overhead, bombs exploding, gunfire, we live in harm’s way,” said Hala, who lives in Damascus. This wife and mother of three daughters says there’s fighting in the streets every day. “We have to travel through dangerous areas throughout the city and walk around dead bodies.”GiveDeath and insecurity have forced millions of Syrians to run for their lives, with more than two million already seeking refuge in neighboring Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, and Iraq. Three-quarters of these refugees are women and children, according to United Nations reports.
This past August, Iraq offered asylum to Syrians who were camped out along its northern border. They built a float-bridge across the Tigris River, and in just one day, nearly 30,000 people—with nothing more than the clothes on their backs and the few possessions they could carry—streamed into the country.
Every day since then, an average of 5,000 people flee Syria.
The Power of Helping in Jesus’ Name
Samaritan’s Purse was closely monitoring this large influx of refugees. Within hours, we assembled a team and had it on the ground assessing the situation in northern Iraq.
“One refugee we spoke to claimed that some Islamic militants threatened to kill him, his wife, and their six children, which caused the family to flee,” said Len Blevins, team leader for our disaster response. “They hope to return to their home in Syria one day soon but not until the situation in their country stabilizes.”
Our team soon discovered that the government was providing three meals a day for more than 190,000 refugees, while supplying sufficient shelter, medical care, and in some cases even electricity.
But there were other people—families unaccustomed to asking for help—falling through the cracks. Samaritan’s Purse identified and worked to fill these gaps in the government’s response.
“Most of the people here do not fit the typical Western view of a refugee,” said Rich Peavy, a Samaritan’s Purse disaster response team member. “Many are well-educated, middle class families that likely never imagined having to leave a life behind and fleeing to another country.”
Reaching the Forgotten
Samaritan’s Purse partnered with a local church to develop a standard household relief kit for distribution to families who live in the host community of Erbil.
This kit provided a supplemental food ration that can last up to one month. We trained church leadership on how to manage the inventory and efficiently pack the individual kits.
Each kit included cooking oil, rice, bulger, chickpeas, lentils, sugar, beans, spaghetti, macaroni, powdered milk, and tomato sauce. So far, a total of 74 household relief kits have been distributed to approximately 365 individuals. The team purchased enough additional commodities to support our ministry partner in assembling another 300 kits.
One of the kits made it into the hands of Salih, a father of five, who left his home and factory job making shoes in Syria for safety in Iraq about five months ago.
Salih found out about the kits from a local believer who saw him on the street and, like the Good Samaritan, did not pass by on the other side.
“I heard about the distribution when a church member stopped to give me some extra change and invited me,” he said. Salih is disabled and cannot find a job. He spends most of his time begging for money at busy intersections.
Salih was grateful for what Samaritan’s Purse provided through the local church. The extra food for his children was a respite from some of the daily pressure of putting food on the table.
“You have really helped us,” he said. “Thank you, may God bless you.”
The team went on to purchase tons of basic commodities such as rice, sugar, lentils, chickpeas, cooking oil, baby diapers and nutrition, and shoes. They were delivered to refugee camps outside of Erbil and near Sulaymaniyah.
We also distributed 300 mattresses and 7,000 diapers to a camp in a remote area about two hours northeast of Erbil.
This camp has a refugee population of 235 families and is composed of 95 pre-existing block homes that were built to house workers as part of a defunct dam construction project. Multiple families live in each house and the regional government is providing the camp population with food and water.
Providing Ongoing Relief
Our initial disaster response phase is complete. Now we’re focused on a long-term strategy with the aim of continuing to provide relief to refugee families living inside camps and in host communities throughout northern Iraq.
Youngsters in particular need our help. Many have crossed borders unaccompanied or have been separated from their families. In a camp located near Sulaymaniyah, we’re pursuing the construction of child-friendly spaces, where boys and girls can focus on being children instead of their horrific circumstances.
Our hope is to construct playgrounds, establish soccer groups, and provide children with access to hands-on activities such as arts and crafts.
Another project under development is the implementation of a livelihood program, specifically a sewing center, where women can earn a modest income while helping meet the clothing needs in the camp.
This program will also provide women with the opportunity to enjoy fellowship and help them develop a sense of community in the midst of extremely difficult circumstances.
Pray for Syrians
Of all the needs Syrians have, prayer is perhaps the greatest. Millions have fled their homes, leaving everything behind. They now find themselves in foreign lands living in tents and off government assistance.
Millions more, like Hala, have decided to stay in Syria and face unthinkable hardship.
“Destruction is all around us,” she said. “Shops are closed. We stand in line for hours for a loaf of bread. We can’t afford fruits and vegetables. Our only hope is in the Lord, Jesus Christ. We need your prayers to keep us safe.”