July 25, 2014

Countries ‘crushed’ under weight of Syrian, Iraqi refugees

By Ava Thomas and Eden Nelson

MIDDLE EAST (BP) — Aman* used to be a banker in Syria, but that’s a life he can hardly remember anymore.


Children in the Middle East who are affected by war share the dreams they have for the future.

Now three years on the other side of a harrowing escape from his war-torn homeland, he’s stuck in a bleak job market, washing dishes for 10 hours a day to feed his starving family.

And worst of all — he’s starting to wonder if it’s ever going to end.

It’s an exhausting life for Aman and the 3 million other Syrian refugees who have flooded surrounding countries, said Don Alan,* a Christian leader in the region.

Think back to a day when you missed a meal, or a night when you weren’t sure you were ever going to get home, Alan said. Got the feeling?

“Multiply that by 100 or 1,000, and that is a portion of what the Syrian refugee feels,” he said.

He hopes Christians in the West won’t take on the exhaustion of their Syrian brothers and sisters but rather that they will take up their cause and hold them up.

“Pray that we would not become weary of this crisis,” Alan said. “Some of them have been refugees for more than three years. We must persevere in supporting them.”

Someone has to, he said. Aid funds from government organizations are drying up. Syria’s neighbors are bending under the burden of refugees spilling over their borders.

Lebanon’s tallies indicate that by year’s end, one third of the tiny country’s population will be refugees from Syria. Ross Mountain, the U.N. resident and humanitarian coordinator, called it an “existential crisis” for Lebanon. More than 1 million refugees have amplified the country’s water shortage into a serious problem.

They’re also straining the country’s economy, accepting jobs for less pay than Lebanese, Mountain said.

To the north of Syria, many Turks are also growing weary of absorbing more and more waves of their neighbors.

Though the Turkish government has extended health care and other continuing aid to Syrian refugees, in a January poll 55 percent of Turks indicated they would like to see the borders closed to fleeing Syrians. Even further, 30 percent of those wanted to send back the ones already living in Turkey.

“Surrounding countries continue to seek ways to find stability in the midst of such a crush of refugees,” Alan said.

Those countries also face fresh challenges, thanks to the emergence of the Islamic State spanning Syria and Iraq, he said.

The militant group ISIS, who recently declared the Islamic State, is exacerbating the region’s refugee problem at an extraordinary rate through broad violence and total religious persecution, he said. Iraqis are now joining their Syrian neighbors in pouring over the borders — especially Christians.

In mid July, the militant group ISIS gave thousands of Christians in northern Iraq a convert-or-die ultimatum, according to the Christian Post. As a result, Christians are being forced to leave homes and villages where they have lived for centuries, Alan said.

Thousands have fled, and many people are asking if this signals the end of Christianity in Iraq.

The ramifications of the Middle East’s refugee crisis will be “felt for decades to come,” Alan said. It’s a bleak situation, he said, but he hopes Christians around the globe will pray that in the midst of the darkness God will do “something new in our day.”

“Pray that we would be courageous and bold. The Gospel is one of peace, even in the midst of pain and turmoil,” he said. “Pray that we would respond with open hearts and open hands. There are ways we can help today by giving, praying and speaking of the hurt of those fleeing this conflict.”

When the Bible is so clear on helping the marginalized, Alan said, how can Christians not respond to “one of the greatest crises of our time”?

“The question to you and me is will we catch His vision for what He is doing? As Jesus reminded us, if we do it to the least, the one most forgotten, then we do it to Him.”

* Name changed

Ava Thomas is a writer/editor for the International Mission Board based in Europe. Eden Nelson is a writer for the IMB based in the Middle East.

-- Pray for the Father’s mercy to meet the needs of those who are suffering from the Iraqi conflict and the Syrian crisis.

-- Pray for Syrian refugees, that they would encounter the love of Christ in their desperation and find their brokenness healed and restored by the Gospel.

-- Pray for Iraqi Christian brothers and sisters, that they will have peace, comfort and wisdom in the midst of persecution.

To find out more about volunteering with Syrians, please visit

Contribute financially to BGR’s Syria Crisis Fund at