Syria (MNN) – Even as ISIS prepares to make its last stand in Baghouz, eastern Syria, on the opposite side of the country, to the north, there’s a fierce fight going on between the Kurds and the Turks over Afrin, a city located in the Aleppo Governorate. The governorate has been occupied by Turkish-backed opposition factions since Islamic State forces were ousted in August 2016.
Up till January 2018, Syrian refugees in Lebanon who were from the region had harbored ideas of heading back home. Horizons International’s Pierre Houssney explains, “Afrin had kind of ‘weathered’ this storm of the war and had maintained stability, so a lot of people were about to head back, and then all of a sudden, the Turks came in and started bombing the area.”
Throughout the last year, renewed fighting for control, along with a vow from President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to keep the area ‘liberated’ means that, “There are new Internally Displaced People (IDP) camps of 200-thousand people popping up in different places. People that thought that they had made it through to the end of the war, supposedly, now been (made) homeless; the people that were going to go back, they found that those dreams of going back were shattered again.”
New Wave of Violence, More Refugees
The multiple arms of a conflict that began with the Arab Spring uprising in 2011, has turned into one of the most confusing wars to follow, with no real ‘good guys’. Keeping track of the dissidents and alliances reaches into the hundreds and those alliances that form new militias change frequently. What’s more, Houssney observes, “A lot of the mainstream media doesn’t even cover the Syria War. It’s almost as if we don’t even know that the war is still going, but people’s lives are being destroyed. Lately, we’ve been getting a lot of distress calls from the Afrin area.”
Houssney says they heard of one village that pooled all their resources to try to get enough diesel fuel to power a generator long enough to send out distress calls. Here’s why: “There are armed militant groups that if you go out, even just to go to work, they will stop you, steal anything that you have. They’ll take your wallet, they’ll take your phone. If you’re driving a little motorbike, they’ll take your motorbike.” It’s not limited to the money, vehicles and electronics. Without money, people can’t buy food…but food is in limited supply, too. “People are saying now that after a week or so of this present situation, they’re going to have to start eating the leaves off the trees because their situation is getting so bad.”
The winter storm that devastated the refugee camps in Lebanon plays into this scenario, too. Fewer people can respond to the distress calls, anymore, he explains. “People in Lebanon that used to send a little bit of money, they just got hit by a big (winter) storm and had to rebuild their tent. People that were back in Syria, they’re getting hit hard. People that are in Lebanon, they’re in a really bad situation.”
After eight years of horrible stories pouring out of Syria, Lebanon and surrounding areas, donor response has evaporated. Call it ‘compassion fatigue’ if you want to, but Houssney reminds us, “What makes a difference is when we don’t surrender to the thought that this can never end and that the needs are limitless. The needs are not limitless. Even though we say, here in Lebanon, that we have 1.6 million, each one of them is important to God. The developed countries around the world, their populations are much bigger than the 1.6 million here or the 2 million that are in Turkey.”
Another aspect to consider is the culture of the refugees. They share what they have with each other: food, lodging, resources. One dollar doesn’t just help one person alone, says Houssney. “When individuals respond by giving an amount of support to help out the work among these refugees, it really does make a difference in people’s lives. When you’re helping one of these refugees, that refugee is able to support other refugees.”
With ministries like Horizons International getting involved and doing what they can to answer the needs of an eight-year crisis, it leads to opportunity, he adds, to talk about the hope that they have. “These refugees are some of the most open, spiritually, to receiving the Gospel of Christ, so these are the people that the global body of Christ should be sharing the Gospel with and helping.”
How can we answer? Take action. Stay aware of what’s going on. Sign up for the newsletters and prayer needs of ministries who are the ‘boots on the ground’. Pray about the people involved; for staff, for wisdom, for strength, for creativity, for healing. Then, consider what you can do with your other resources: time and money, to walk alongside some of these followers of Christ.
(Headline image, Screengrab, courtesy Prayercast.com)