Kurdish Refugees Suffer as War in Turkey Escalates

October 15, 2015

Syrian refugees stuck in Istanbul, Turkey appeal to the government to let them proceed by land to Greece.

The escalation in Turkey's fight with Kurdish rebels has made life harder for Kurdish refugees from Syria, and indigenous Christians are working to keep them from the same fate as the drowned toddler – a Kurd – whose lifeless body woke the world in a photograph that went viral.

Kurdish and leftist groups at a peace rally were targeted in the worst terrorist attack in Turkey's history on Saturday (Oct. 10), when twin suicide bombings in the capital city of Ankara killed at least 128 people. Those responsible for the Ankara blasts are unknown (the government suspects the Islamic State). It hit as Turkish forces increased bombing of Kurdish rebels in the southeast.

A Kurdish refugee family recently found the Turkish government was unwilling to help them when officials discovered they were from the Kobani, located in a predominantly Kurdish area of Syria, said the director of a ministry indigenous to Turkey.

"The Turkish government had opened a new branch to help the refugees, so when he went there, they asked him, 'Where are you from?' and he answered, 'From Syria,'" the director said. "They asked where in Syria. When he said from Kobani, they refused to help them, so now they have another problem: They are Kurds, and now the Turkish government and Kurds are at war in the southeast."

The family had no place to go and didn't know what to do, he said.

Abdullah Kurdi, father of the drowned 3-year-old boy whose photo shocked the world, had another surname before officials dubbed him "Kurdi" upon his arrival to Turkey because of his Kurdish ethnicity. He too had come from Kobani. Finding it difficult to be accepted as a Syrian Kurd in Turkey, Kurdi had opted to go to Greece. His toddler son Aylan, 5-year-old son Galip and wife Rehan perished in the Aegean Sea on Sept. 2 trying to make it to Greece on a refugee boat from Bodrum in southwestern Turkey.

The ministry director said he would like to take his team to Bodrum, as refugees continue to trek to the resort area to make the perilous trip across the waters to Greece. In a tent camp where the ministry serves, five families sold all they had and recently went to Bodrum, the ministry director said.

"Three of the families made it to Greece, but two of the families didn't make it," he said. "All of them died in the water."

The director had spoken to the families while giving away food boxes in July, he said. The two families that drowned included three children.

"We have to be fast to help these people; otherwise, many will die when they are trying to flee to Europe," he said. "We pray that we can reach many more people as fast as we can. Please pray for us and pray for them, so no other kids die in the water."

The ministry seeks assistance for transportation to make more trips to the refugees, and the director said he would also like to open a school. In the course of their work, 16 refugees have received Jesus, he said.

"We are praying for the opportunity to reach more people, and we want you to pray for us, as well, that God open our way and we can serve Him even more," he said. "We believe that the Lord will work here to save more people."

A refugee mother gathers up food for her family in Turkey.

In one refugee camp in Adana in south-central Turkey, most of those who have fled Syria's civil war and the terrorist advances of the Islamic State (ISIS) are Kurdish. Many are working in nearby fields, but they are having difficulty collecting their pay, said the director of another indigenous ministry. His ministry has been distributing food and other items to the camp in Adana twice a month, and on their last visit, team members saw a level of hunger and desperation they had not seen before.

The refugees are angry and without hope, said the director, whose name is withheld for security purposes. Recently a Kurdish grandmother came to him and other team members with her grandson, who appeared to be about 15 or 16, he said.

"She told us that ISIS killed the child's father," the director said. "The mother had gone and married a Turkish person."

Assuming the ministry leader was wealthy, she told him to take the boy.

"I told her that we cannot do anything like that, but that of course we will pray for him and Jesus loves him," he said. "She got more angry at me, and she asked, 'Where is He? How does He love us? If He would love us, we would not be angry.' She was so mad at me."

Because ISIS had terrorized her family in the name of God, the ministry leader sensed that she was angry at God and didn't want to hear anything about God.

"I just thought about what to say," he said, "and I told her, 'ISIS hit you, but Jesus sent me to you. He told me, 'Go and take bread to them, take shoes to them, take food and vitamins to them for their health.' Here I am. Jesus sent me to you."

The grandmother turned and walked away, but as the leader was about to leave, he heard her shout in Arabic, "Thank you!"

"She came to me, held my hand and showed her heart," he said. "She said, 'So many wounds. Tell Jesus to save us.' Please pray with me for Jesus to save this woman and all the refugees."

The ministry was able to distribute food to 72 of the 164 tents at the camp. It seeks assistance to reach more tents with items such as oil, pasta, cheese, cleaning supplies, chick-peas, lentils, chocolate for children and vitamins for the elderly.

"The refugee children who see us are running to us shouting, 'The church came,' because their families are telling them that this help for them is coming from church people," the ministry leader said. "Please continue to pray that the Lord will touch their hearts and bring them into His fold. Please pray for my country, since there is a lot of bloodshed going on in the eastern regions. May the Almighty stop all terrorist actions and give us peace."