Syrian Refugees Desperate as Winter Bites
February 4, 2016
Refugee children await help at a tent camp in Adana, Turkey.
While hunger was driving children to eat mucus from their noses in a refugee camp in Turkey, two Syrians and a pregnant Turkish woman in the makeshift camp died from swine flu, an indigenous missionary reported.
In what many regard as one of Turkey's coldest winters on record, the director learned from refugees that the three unnamed people who died in the camp near the southern city of Adana on Jan. 2 were not related to each other, and one was four months pregnant. A doctor confirmed that the three died from the H1N1 "swine flu" virus, said the Turkish ministry director, whose name is withheld for security reasons. The virus has afflicted nearly 500 people in Turkey in the past three months, killing at least 57, according to government officials.
The ministry director's team visits two unofficial refugee camps each week, one in Adana and one outside the city. He said a refugee recently called begging for supplies, lamenting that he had nothing to give his family to eat.
"He kept saying that we are the only ones helping them," he said. "They cannot work [in the fields] in winter, and he said kids were eating their own snot. I was wordless, I couldn't speak for 20 seconds; I didn't know what to say. He said it's very hard to see children die in front of them, and they are not able to do anything – they are starving and trembling from the cold."
Many refugees in the unofficial tent camps are living on bare ground, and their children have no shoes and socks. Newborns in the camps, the director said, lack baby formula, and mothers are too malnourished to provide breast milk.
The camps, one with about 600 people in 85 tents and another with around 7,000 people in more than 1,200 tents, receive no assistance from Turkey, which otherwise has been the most welcoming country in the region. More than 2.3 million Syrian refugees are reportedly registered in Turkey, with about 9 percent of those living in refugee camps. The rest are spread around Turkey's cities, searching for cheap housing, food and ways to reach Europe.
Refugees in Turkey and elsewhere continue to brave winter's rough Aegean Sea in attempts to reach Greece. On Saturday (Jan. 30), 37 refugees died when their boat from Turkey capsized off the Greek island of Lesbos. At least 24 migrants drowned on Jan. 28 off the island of Samos, including 10 children. Their dinghy was carrying 45 people when it capsized. Eleven people were still missing when the 24 bodies were found, while 10 people were rescued.
The previous week, 44 people died in rough waters when three refugee boats bound for Greece from Turkey sank off the islands of Farmakonisi and Kalolimnos on Jan. 22. In the first four weeks of 2016, at least 200 people died in wintry waters, while more than 46,000 refugees made it to Greek shores, according to the United Nations. Greece received more than 850,000 refugees last year.
The desperation that drives them to take such chances can be seen in the camps that have spontaneously sprung up in Adana. Many of the children and the elderly there are suffering from bronchitis or pneumonia. They need medicines, firewood for cooking and other items, said the director, whose ministry Christian Aid Mission assists.
"We need more than 150 heaters, more than 300 blankets, and we need baby formula, diapers, socks and shoes, clean water and food to give them," he said. "They are suffering, and when they see us, they are begging for food."
Rain water has flowed into their tents, making it impossible for them to sleep on the ground, he said.
"It took all day for us to try to visit 500 tents one by one – sometimes because of the mud we couldn't even walk, and we could not enter the tents," he said. "There are a lot of families who have just arrived at the camp, and they try to build tents with old blankets to stop the water from flowing in from the top, but the water flows in under the tent."
More than 60 refugees recently arrived with no means of surviving, he said.
"They have no heater, no mattress, no blanket, nothing in their hands," he said. "Also almost 90 percent of the children don't have shoes to wear. Winter is hitting very hard and cold for the refugees."
From the entryway of one tent the ministry workers saw refugee children sitting on the ground, three siblings eating dry bread, he said.
A refugee woman is overjoyed to receive a heater from an indigenous ministry distributing supplies in Adana, Turkey.
"When I asked the mother why they are eating only dry bread, she said, 'What else we can give? We have no baby formula.' It was really hard for us to hear this from a mother."
While providing for their urgent physical needs, the ministry team is also distributing Bibles as they share about Christ.
"We're visiting the refugees one by one to preach the gospel and teach the Bible so that they will accept Jesus as Savior," the director said. "We are going slowly, but everything happens as God wants. We have two Syrians who have accepted Jesus, and also there are people asking questions about the Bibles that we gave them along with the food boxes."
He asked for prayer for emotional strength for team members as they witness the suffering of the refugees and the deplorable conditions in which they are living, and as they listen to stories of survival, he said.
"It's heart-breaking when we continue seeing them trying to survive. We have to move fast to protect these aggrieved people," he said. "They are really suffering, and as believers we have to help them in this winter time. We believe the Lord can do everything for them; for God, nothing is impossible. Please pray for us and for them,that the Lord provide for all their needs."
To help indigenous missionaries meet needs, you may contribute online using the form below, or call (434) 977-5650. If you prefer to mail your gift, please mail to Christian Aid Mission, P.O. Box 9037, Charlottesville, VA 22906. Please use Gift Code: 400REF. Thank you!