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Syrian Refugees' Tent Camp Is Destroyed

August 3, 2017

Syrian refugees in Turkey sleep on a vacant lot.
Their tent camp destroyed, Syrian refugees in Turkey sleep on a vacant lot.

A mother of small children who recently lost her breasts to cancer was one of more than 3,500 Syrian refugees who received notice on July 17 that they had one month to vacate a tent camp in southern Turkey.

The next day, the government flattened the ramshackle camp.

"Give me five minutes to get my stuff out," the mother pleaded with Turkish authorities who were flanked by hundreds of police officers and military personnel. Not knowing Arabic, they could understand only the cry in her voice, but all they said was, "No."

She wept as they herded her and the rest of the refugees out of the camp, loaded their few but critical belongings onto trucks, and destroyed 600 tents.

Another refugee could not contain his anger. "We ran away from ISIS in Syria, and now you are trying to kill us," he told a policeman.

"They came suddenly with the police and military and other government authorities, and they took everything out, right down to the ground," the ministry director said.

The director of an indigenous ministry providing aid to the refugees said the razing of the tent camp did not appear in any news media.

"Many people were very angry about how the government acted when they destroyed the tents and did not allow the refugees to take their things out first," he said. "They came suddenly with the police and military and other government authorities with trucks and a loader, and they took everything out, right down to the ground."

Ministry Shift

Authorities said they destroyed the camp at the behest of the property owner, who had complained that he could not plant anything on his land. Last year officials told the refugees they needed to go to official refugee camps – notorious for drugs, violence and other abuses – or else move into apartments. The refugees could not afford apartments, and they knew corrupt thugs were unofficially running the official camps.

Along with the heavy equipment to clear the tent site, authorities brought 10 large buses to take the refugees to an official camp, but only 10 people boarded. The rest filtered into the city, which is undisclosed for security reasons, to seek shelter in abandoned buildings or cram into other refugees' apartments; typically, two to four families live in one room.

Some 120 families remain on the streets, sleeping on or near sidewalks.

"The refugees on the street have told me that their situation is very, very bad at the moment, especially for widows and orphans," the director said. "It's especially bad for the elderly, who have no one to take care of them, and they cannot work and have no money to pay for anything."

"We thank God that we have been able to reach around 6,000 refugees with His Word, and we know that with His help we can reach even more," he said.

The refugees need a place to stay where they and their children can feel safe. As an indigenous missionary knowledgeable of the refugees and the area where they have dispersed, the director knows where all the families have sought refuge.

"I am still ministering to them," he said. "I am now dealing with people who live on the streets and people who are living in two rooms with eight families. Everybody knows us. We have to do something for the 120 families who are living in the streets. They need our help immediately, especially for a place to live."

Though some landlords take advantage of refugees and increase rents, about 490 families from the razed camp have taken refuge in crowded apartment buildings. Many apartment owners refuse to rent to single people, leaving them with no options.

"I have been receiving a lot of phone calls waiting for help from us, and we have to get it quickly, as soon as possible," the director said.

Gospel Light

Twelve of the 120 families living on the streets are particularly vulnerable, as they are former Muslims who have come to Christ since the ministry began visiting them. As they gaze at their exhausted children asleep in the open air at night, they can only trust that the Lord who led them thus far will carry them through the latest crisis.

In its outreach to these and other tent camps, the indigenous ministry has led more than 100 refugees to put their trust in Jesus as Lord and Savior.

"And we are thankful that 150 more are now seeking to know more about Him," the director said. "We are amazed, and we believe that even more people can be reached. We thank God that we have been able to reach around 6,000 refugees during the last two and a half years with His Word, and we know that with His help we can reach even more."

Remains of a makeshift tent camp in Turkey.
The remains of a makeshift tent camp that once gave more than 3,500 refugees rudimentary shelter.

While Christian refugees on the street had to keep their faith secret in the camp due to the presence of radical Islamists, at least now they are not in such close quarters with the extremists. As Syria's civil war drags on, however, they and the other unhoused refugees are overcoming monumental challenges to get through each day.

The ministry envisions building apartment buildings for the refugees, but meantime it is searching for land outside the city to set up tents.

"We need to pray for them to find a place, to get mattresses for them and blankets, to meet their simple needs," the director said. "We are meeting the basic needs for some of the refugees at this point, and we use this opportunity to share the word of God with many people."

The ministry continues providing food, baby food and formula, diapers and clean water, but now also it needs mattresses, blankets and help for the refugees to pay rent. Please consider helping people who have lost everything to keep themselves and their children alive.

Help meet physical/spiritual needs of Middle East refugees
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