Cruel Coronavirus Leaves Middle East Refugees in Desperate Fight for Survival

Sitting in a tent in a camp of nearly 4,000 refugees in Turkey, a Syrian mother had gone two days without eating in order to provide the family’s remaining rice to her three children.

Her husband had not worked in weeks, as construction and farm employers had been ordered to a halt in order to stop the spread of the new coronavirus. Visits from aid groups had also stopped, with few exceptions.

The sound of refugees clamoring over the arrival of a truck signaled the presence of one of those exceptions. She and her family scrambled to their feet and joined the rush to the road.

“People came to us as if they were living their last moments and waited, as if our help would save their lives,” the leader of the local ministry said. “As soon as we got there, unfortunately we encountered the usual image: We were wearing masks and gloves while we were moving, preserving the social distance, but we saw tens of refugees come toward us without taking any measures.”

"People came to us as if they were living their last moments and waited, as if our help would save their lives."

The ministry leader and his workers had to keep their minds alert even as their hearts ached, he said.

“No matter how much we wanted to hug them, we had to maintain the distance between us,” he said. “Other refugees gathered around and asked us to help them. I have known them for a long time, but I have never seen them so desperate, because they know how cruel this disease is, and they are very afraid.”

Affliction in the Region

Turkey has the seventh highest incidence of COVID-19 cases in the world, with more than 126,000 people infected (of which 68,000 have recovered) and upwards of 3,400 deaths. Many more unreported cases and deaths are suspected.

Among countries in the Middle East, Iran is next with more than 100,000 cases of coronavirus infection (more than 80,000 recovered) and more than 6,300 deaths. Saudi Arabia, Israel, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Kuwait and Iraq follow.

With Israel in lockdown, local missionaries are keenly aware of growing needs even though the country has the protective and medical equipment to rein in the disease, the director of a ministry based there said.

“Israel as a state is coping with the situation, everything is organized, and they have almost everything to deal with this virus and the many already infected,” the local ministry leader said. “But families are already calling for help with food baskets and medicine; also pray for our four teachers at the day care, as we were not able to pay them anything for March.”

The Palestinian Territories have much fewer resources to deal with the crisis, he said.

“I’m sorry to say that they are very limited in everything,” he said. “Without help from other nations, they will suffer greatly. Please continue to pray for the whole situation in Israel and the Palestinian Authority area.”

Vulnerable Refugees

Among refugees in Turkey, Lebanon, Iraq and other countries, once someone becomes infected, the virus spreads rapidly among people crammed into small spaces. Few are coming to their aid, the ministry leader in Turkey said.

“When we asked them if the governorship or other associations came and offered any help or disinfection, they said that no one else had visited them,” he said. “They raised their hands to the sky and started to pray for us.”

Of the 3,800 people in the camp, about 1,200 are age 65 or older, and they are at higher risk along with many people who have chronic illness, including children, he said.

“They need to be evacuated urgently or at least disinfect the areas they live in,” he said. “When we talked to them, the military police came to the camp and asked why we were here. We said we were here in the official capacity; they took our IDs and checked them. After they learned that our documents were official, they let us help them under their supervision.”

The occasion marked the first time soldiers were present during the ministry’s distribution of food, clean water and other critical aid, the director said.

“They thanked us very much,” he said. “They said they knew how serious the situation was, but they could not help.”

The leader said his ministry also would aim to help the many Turks in his local community who have lost jobs due to the coronavirus threat, but that it lacks resources to do so. For now, they focus on the refugees that have arrived, mostly from war-ravaged Syria.

“We now urgently need donations for supplies of hygiene items and the means to disinfect tents,” the director said. “We hope that the necessary steps are taken, and they will be saved from the disaster. Please pray for us and refugees.”

Local missionaries in Turkey and throughout the region are working under increasingly difficult circumstances to bring relief to suffering people. Please consider a donation today to enable them to bring the love of Christ to desperate souls.

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