Cease-Fire or Not, Syrian Refugee Crisis Persists

March 31, 2016

A family shares an afternoon meal of peanuts at a makeshift refugee camp outside Adana, Turkey.
A family shares an afternoon meal of peanuts at a makeshift refugee camp outside Adana, Turkey.

Civilian deaths have decreased in Syria since a cease-fire took effect one month ago, but shell-shocked refugees continue to flow into Turkey in desperate need of aid, indigenous Christian leaders said.

From Feb. 27, when the cease-fire began, to March 27, the number of civilian deaths in Syria dropped to 363 – still a horrific loss of life, but fewer than the 1,100 civilian lives lost in the one month before the pact took effect, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR).

Of the 363 civilian deaths, according to SOHR, 174 took place in areas where the cease-fire is in effect, and the remaining 189 civilians were killed in territory held by Islamic rebel terrorist groups such as the Islamic State (ISIS) and Al Qaeda's Nusra Front. The terrorist groups were not party to the agreement, and each side in Syria's civil war accuses the other of sporadic violations of the cease-fire.

Turkey has accepted more Syrian refugees, 2.7 million, and provided more direct aid, upwards of 8 billion euros (US$8.9 billion), than any other country, but thousands of arrivals are not able to access the official camps to benefit from this assistance. One of the indigenous Turkish ministries that Christian Aid Mission assists visits unofficial, makeshift tent camps outside Adana to distribute aid.

"Every time we speak with refugee newcomers, we find another sad story that sometimes makes you become wordless," an indigenous ministry leader in Turkey said last week. "We have spoken with a family that has three kids. The husband's wife was captured by ISIS, and they wounded him when he stood against them to try to stop them from taking his wife away from her children. He showed us the scar."

On some visits, the ministry sets priorities for distribution of its limited aid. Opting to distribute food boxes and shoes only to orphans and widows last week, especially widows with babies, the ministry gave out cards indicating who could receive aid.

"Many mothers came over to the truck and begged for food boxes, and it was very hard for me to tell them this time we were only delivering to those who held the cards that we gave them," the director said. "So they were begging us and kept repeating that they were also widows and have six children waiting for bread to eat. It was heart-breaking also for the kids that were crying to have shoes, so I kept telling them, 'Stay to one side, later I will give something to all of you,' and they kept saying, 'Promise, uncle, promise. . . '"

Along with urgent needs, some families have special needs. A mother of three whose husband was killed in Aleppo in a bombing four months ago has a son who cannot walk. She fled with her brother-in-law to a camp outside Adana.

"They are having a very hard time to survive," the ministry director said. "She has two girls and a boy, and the boy was born disabled. There are many children born disabled, or they're becoming unhealthy due to developmental disorders that occur because there is not enough food, and the 3-year-old cannot speak and cannot even walk."

The ministry is extending a helping hand to such families, he said.

"Our God gave us this opportunity, and we had the opportunity to touch people's hearts; thanks to God, they're asking questions to get to know Him. This opportunity is a treasure for us."

In a visit to the camp earlier this month, the team went to 200 tents with the aim of tending to suffering babies and children and proclaiming Christ.

"We entered each tent and listened to their stories. It leaves us really heartbroken when we listen to their stories, and the living conditions in the camps are becoming worse each day, and we become speechless," he said. "But today the good news is that three Syrian refugees accepted Jesus Christ, which is God's miracle, showing us everything is possible for Him."

Bundled-up baby and mother.
Infants needing nutrition, diapers and baby formula are high priority in aid distribution a refugee camps.

Many of the refugees have begun asking about Jesus and Christianity, he said.

"We were telling them the difference between Islam and Christianity, and when they heard the difference, they said, 'We didn't know the way of Christianity that you are telling us about.' We are so glad that the Lord is using all of us to reach them, to correct their way and to redirect them. Please pray for us so we can reach more people, and we are also praying for you all so we can assist them in their suffering lives."

As they walk through the camps, ministry workers can smell the unhygienic conditions that can lead to disease, and they see many infants without pants or diapers. When the workers show up, refugees come running up them, begging for help – mothers pleading for diapers, baby formula and medical care.

At one tent, they saw a 7-day-old newborn who was not moving.

"The baby was just sleeping without moving, and the father and mother said the baby had epilepsy, and that the hospital told them that they have to change the blood," he said. "They are village people, they have no idea what to do, and the mother of the baby kept begging for us to help them with the child."

The parents showed the team test results from a hospital.

"They said they have eight children, and they are suffering, and they didn't know how to feed them," he said. "We have to do something for them immediately, and for other suffering families, too. They have been desolate, on their own; they said, 'You see we are dying in front of the Turkish government and people, but nobody cares about us."

The director of another ministry in Turkey was thankful for the 150 food boxes, 90 heaters, 200 blankets, 120 boxes of clean water and 100 pairs of shoes that Christian Aid donors enabled him to distribute to Syrian refugees, but he confirmed ongoing needs.

"When it was finished, other refugees kept saying, 'We want also; we need, as well,'" he said. "We said, 'Pray for us so God can give us some that we can deliver for you.' They kept saying, 'We are forgotten people here, no one is taking care of us; the government and other organizations have left us on our own.'"

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!