Our thanks to all who have donated and prayed for Middle Eastern refugees displaced by ISIS. Your support means so much! Here is the latest field update from our international director, Robb. For previous updates, see here and here.
At this time the flow of families seeking refuge in Erbil, Kurdistan, has almost stopped. ISIS have not made any further advances in the area, and those who have been persecuted at the hands of the fundamentalists have left the areas under radical control.
ISIS presence is now about 120 miles away from Erbil. With the support of coalition airstrikes, Kurdish Peshmerga fighters continue to take back any areas previously controlled by ISIS. Foreign flights come into and take off from Erbil in the early hours of the morning—with their landing lights off and in a spiral descent just in case, but there is now generally good security in the area. Several UN and other aid agencies are now present.
Colder weather is starting to settle in, and the church has been pressing the local government for a more permanent solution to the refugee problem. The government has apparently given the church the use of a half-completed shopping mall, which they have been allowed to convert into housing for refugees. Families are starting to move out of their tents and are slowly being moved into these temporary, but more solid, shelters.
Temperatures are now down to a high of 71°F (22°C) and a low of 52°F (12°C) but will continue to drop as winter closes in. Blankets are being purchased when available, but with an increased number of people in Erbil and the southward roads to Bagdad cut off by ISIS, these essentials are in short supply. Prices continue to escalate, and warm clothes, portable heaters, and the like are premium items.
Refugees are still housed in local schools, which means that most local children have not been able to return to their schooling for some months. The plan is that once the refugees have been moved out of family tents and out of the large, subdivided wedding tent erected some weeks ago, then those in the schools will also be transferred to something more solid.
The previously abandoned shopping mall, now allocated for refugee use, is still a dismal place to live. It has no facilities, so the church must erect subdividing walls and install water, electricity, and other utilities to make the place habitable. Brother Gabir tells me that families are sharing space, with two or three people to each large room and bathroom, and the limited facilities are shared. It sounds like a good temporary solution in order to put a concrete roof over their heads for winter, but still it sounds like a bleak and miserable place to be. There is no furniture in place, other than the mattresses we helped to purchase and a few old chairs and tables.
The desperate stage has passed in Erbil, but for these poor people who have lost everything, the journey to a secure future is far from being over.
Gabir asked me several times to convey to John, Lisa, Messenger International, and our partners his sincere and very grateful thanks for standing with the church during the desperate days when people were arriving during the spike of the ISIS advance. We stepped in when they had nothing and people were still sleeping on the bare ground. There has been a greater awareness of the situation and couple of Christian relief agencies are now helping out, but it is nice to know that we were there for the people during the early chaos, when the nights were the darkest and the need was the greatest. Gabir now asks for prayer for his family, who have had a hard few months, and for his wife, who is laid up with a spinal problem.
Through the support of our partners, Messenger International has been able to provide Brother Gabir and his church with the funds to purchase mattresses, food, and more. Partners, thank you for your commitment to teach, reach, and rescue! You make it possible for us to help those in great need.