(Turkey) CAM/MNN – Non-Government Organizations are increasingly concerned that the international response is failing to match the scale of the Syrian refugee crisis.
Almost seven million people – a third of the population – are desperately in need of aid inside Syria.
Meanwhile, outside of Syria, instead of slowing down, it appears that the violence is driving even more people out, and in greater numbers. Nearly two million are populating refugee camps that stretch as far as the eye can see. Hundreds of thousands are waiting to register. Thousands more are trying to eke out survival in high-rent apartments, abandoned buildings or anywhere else they can shelter.
Many fled to neighboring countries, ill-equipped to handle the influx. They’re also beginning to clamp down like Jordan and Iraq. Turkey now only allows a limited number of Syrians to enter, leaving tens of thousands stranded in miserable and insecure conditions on the other side of the border.
Christian Aid Mission reports that in Lebanon, Syrians make up a quarter of the population  and are living in at least 1200 locations. Just 131,000 of the half a million refugees who fled to Jordan are living in Zaatari camp. Since the start of the civil war in Syria two years ago, over 400,000 refugees have poured into Turkey, placing great strain on the nation’s already stretched resources.
As there appears to be no end in sight for the conflict in Syria, the United Nations estimates that the number of refugees could double, even triple, by the end of this year.
The concern is that those swelling numbers will only increase tensions in border areas, like Turkey. Those who reside near the border are not happy about this current tidal wave of newcomers. Stephen Van Valkenburg, Middle East Director for Christian Aid, explains, “The employers in that area don’t pay very much because they can always hire refugees for next to nothing and there’s a lot of competition for housing and housing prices go up. Of course, food prices go up because there’s more demand for food.”
New problems crop up whenever a new group comes into a country as refugees. Syria’s addition comes at a time when Turks may feel stretched too thin, already. Van Valkenburg notes, “They’ve had Iraqis there for a while. They’ve got Afghans there, and within Syria, you’ve got Palestinian camps. Some of them are fleeing, so you’ve got these various groups. Iranians are in Turkey (too).” When asked why Turkey seems to be the collection point for the various refugee communities, he adds, “Pretty much all the Muslim countries can get into Turkey without a visa. So, it’s an easy place for people to go to get out of their country.”
In the effort to spread the concentration of need out a little more, the government sets up camps and assigns specific locations where refugees can live. Families who find camp life undesirable seek whatever housing they can find in nearby communities. Recently the government began placing refugees in the cities of Samsun, Sinop, and Ordu along the Black Sea, says Van Valkenburg. The ministry they’re helping is responding. “They’re reaching out to them, and they can provide for basic needs, try to provide bedding for them, help them with rent, food and also get settled, and find medical care.”
Mission Pontus, the aforementioned partner, welcomes the opportunity to reach out with the love of Jesus Christ to those who are homeless and rejected. “The difference is that when they give out aid, that the people know that there’s somebody there that cares for them, that the workers will pray for them in the name of Jesus Christ, show care; they listen to them.”
Christian Aid is supporting their efforts because the impact is far-reaching. In Samsun alone, 5000 refugees are expected. They arrive somewhat disillusioned. VanValkenburg says, “When they see all the conflict of Muslim on Muslim fighting, and they leave the country, then they have to start questioning ‘why is it that we have all this conflict?’ It’s a very good opportunity for Christians to show Christ’s love to them.” Mission Pontus also makes Gospel tracts and New Testaments available on street bookstands.
Effective? Freed of the normal confines of protocol, people who are searching for Truth feel free to actually look.
For example, Azad is a refugee from Iran who is half Azerbaijani. Mission Pontus introduced him to the gospel while he was living in Amasya. He received Christ and grew in his faith. Among those he later led to the Lord were two Iraqis who are now ministering to a community of refugees from Iraq and Iran.
When Azad immigrated to Oklahoma, he carried his passion for evangelism to his new home. No matter where he lives-Turkey, the United States, or anywhere else-his desire is for others to know Christ. God opened a door, and Azad is excited to be serving in a ministry to Iranians in America.
Another refugee, Hafez from Afghanistan, was led to Christ by Mission Pontus workers. He eventually immigrated to Berlin, Germany, where he has an excellent ministry.
In addition to assisting refugees, Mission Pontus has enjoyed a very effective outreach to foreign students. Some students return to their home countries as ambassadors for Christ and become active in local ministry.
A university student from Iran is one of the individuals assisting Mission Pontus this summer in outreach to Syrian refugees. Last year Farzin was led to the Lord through a gospel worker of the ministry.
Because Mission Pontus has already evangelized and discipled people from Syria, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, and Palestine, they have personnel who can reach out to the latest round of refugees relocating to Turkey.
The refugees need everything from food, clothing, and medicine to assistance with rental expenses. Many of the displaced are women and children who have no means to provide for themselves.
Among the practical items needed most are milk for babies ($22.50 a day or $675 a month for 30 babies), baby food ($3700), and diapers ($2060 per month).
Summer will not last forever, and the onset of colder temperatures toward the end of the year will make survival more difficult. Blankets ($32 each) and heaters ($70) will be in high demand.
Evangelistic materials are also needed, including New Testaments ($2.50 each) written in Arabic and Farsi, gospel DVDs ($6), and Christian pamphlets ($2.50 each) written specifically for a Muslim audience.
The refugees have little money to spare for bus fare to the church. Mission Pontus would like to buy a van ($35,000 new or a good used one for $25,000-$30,000). The vehicle will enable the ministry to pick up refugees and bring them to gospel meetings.
“Mission Pontus is a fruitful ministry,” said Van Valkenburg. “They are reaching Turkish Muslims, college students, foreign students, prisoners, and refugees. Now with these refugees being assigned to Samsun, this is a good opportunity for the ministry to reach them with the gospel.”