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War, ISIS Cruelty Traumatize Syrian Refugees

October 27, 2016

Crying refugee child.
Unofficial refugee camps in Turkey are seeing more psychologically hurting arrivals from Aleppo, Syria.

One of thousands of refugees in acute need of trauma counseling, an elderly Syrian in Turkey lost two children and other relatives following intensified airstrikes and bombings in Aleppo, Syria.

The director of a ministry based in southern Turkey said the refugee had fled Aleppo with his wife two years ago, but his son and daughter were unable to escape and had been living under Islamic State (ISIS) control.

"The old man said that five days ago, when Russia attacked with war planes, he lost his son and daughter," the director said. "His daughter-in-law also was injured, and they brought her to the hospital in Antakya [Turkey, near the Syrian border]. She had an operation, but three days later she also died."

The anguished refugee asked the Christian leader if his ministry could help them.

"The old man was crying, and he asked me where he should go or what should he do," he said. "He told us that only he and his wife were left, and they have no one with them. They have lost their only son and daughter and their son's family, and they cannot work to provide food for their survival."

The indigenous ministry has seen a surge in refugees from Aleppo as Syrian government and Russian forces have mounted offensives to retake areas of the city from rebel units in the past month, he said. Like the elderly man trying to kiss the ministry director's hand as he begged for help, most of them need trauma counseling, which ministry workers provide as they listen to their stories and pray with them.

"The old man was crying, and he asked me where he should go or what should he do," the ministry director said. "They cannot work to provide food for their survival."

With more than 2.7 million refugees in Turkey, there aren't enough aid agencies to meet the overwhelming needs of those suffering psychological trauma, said the director of another ministry serving those who have fled war in Syria and Iraq. The particular cruelty of ISIS adds another dimension of pain to those suffering the atrocities of war.

"There should be maybe 100 ministries to reach them," the Istanbul-based ministry director said. "Every family has a loss from war, every family. And some of the stories are so terrible, I cannot even tell you - some stories are just like nightmares. And they are living with that burden every day."

His team has been ministering to one traumatized, Syrian family in southern Turkey for three years. The first year, the family was hiding in a collapsed building and had no contact with anyone, he said - when workers tried to help them, they just ran away. In Syria, the mother had been raped and the father tortured.

She was the first to arrive in Turkey, having escaped ISIS with the help of Kurdish fighters. After a year, team members established a bond with the Sunni Muslim couple's small daughter, which proved to be a link to the rest of the family. They became friendly with the ministry team members, who subsequently arranged for trauma counseling for the entire family.

"Now they're working, they're taking care of themselves, and the father can work and the mother can take care of children and the children are going to school because of our ministry to them over three years," he said. "Now they probably will be Christians. We started to share the gospel five months ago, and now they are very open, especially the wife. I believe she will be Christian very soon."

The distress of refugee life compounds the psychological scars of war. The leader of the ministry based in southern Turkey said he receives phone calls from unofficial camps informing him that many people have arrived who have nothing to sleep on.

"They were trying to set up their own tent, but they have no material to cover the tent," he said. "During the summer months the weather is very hot, so they cannot sit in the tent, and they have no shade to protect themselves from the heat."

On a recent visit to such a makeshift camp, his team found many newborn babies in the tents that had already been set up.

Refugee family in makeshift tent.
Entire families are suffering emotional trauma in makeshift refugee camps in Turkey.

"Most of the babies were 1 month old, and a few of them only 5 days old," he said. "Every mother we spoke to was asking for baby formula and diapers for the babies, and they kept saying they could not produce milk since they cannot get proper food for themselves. It is heart-breaking stories like this that we hear from the suffering refugees."

When ministry team members arrive, the refugees crowd around them asking for help, and oftentimes all the workers can tell them is, "We will see - if we can, we will bring help for you," he said. The ministry provides baby formula, diapers, food boxes and clean water only as donor assistance permits.

"They need clean water since no official office comes to clean the [unofficial] camp," the director said. "The water becomes so dirty that they cannot sleep at night from the smell, not to mention all the illness that happens as a result."

The trauma that refugees suffer extends to the workers serving them. As team members help to bear refugees' burdens, they experience secondary trauma that wears them down emotionally, especially as they are facing opposition in their outreach and lack of a worship facility in their church fellowship.

"We have really big responsibilities on our back, not only with our fellowship but also with the refugees as well, as many Muslims were coming to the Lord," the director said. "We see evil working so hard to make us fail to reach them, so please pray we can stand against evil. Life is getting harder for us since we lack support."

To help indigenous missionaries to 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!

Help meet physical/spiritual needs of Middle East refugees
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