By Lynne Hybels -
The current situation faced by Syrians and Iraqis displaced by war is perhaps the worst humanitarian crisis in the world.
Over 3 million Syrians have been forced to seek refuge in Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and other countries. Another 6.5 million Syrians remain in Syria, but have been displaced from their homes—people literally fleeing for their lives in an active war zone. Nearly half of Syria’s entire population has been displaced by the war.
That's only the beginning.
Sixty percent of Syrian refugees are young people who have experienced traumas we can’t imagine: seeing a parent tortured or a sibling killed, watching entire city streets explode, fleeing from their homes or across borders in the dark of night, with shells flying over their heads or rebel soldiers chasing them. One childcare worker in Syria said, “There are no longer any children in my country—even a four-year-old can tell you everything about war."
During Advent, we light candles to symbolize the light of Christ that pushes back the darkness. We await with longing the restoration, healing and peace birthed in Bethlehem and continually re-birthed in those who walk in the way of Jesus. But for hundreds of thousands of refugees in the Middle East such longing is not just a spiritual exercise. It is an ever-present reality.
The Lost Generation
Called Syria’s Lost Generation, these children have not only been traumatized, they’ve also lost the support structures—schools, social clubs, neighborhood activities—that generally provide a positive pathway to the future. Now they sit idly in dusty refugee camps or urban slums in foreign countries, feeling their future slip through their fingers.
Syria was a beautiful country, lush and green. People from surrounding countries often vacationed near Syria’s beaches, enjoying an inviting culture of good food, art, architecture. Now, not just the beauty of Syria has been destroyed, but the necessary civic infrastructure as well; the majority of schools and hospitals are currently unusable.
Syrians who once enjoyed a middle-class lifestyle in a fertile land, now live in tents in the Jordanian desert. The Za’atari Refugee Camp is home to more than 80,000 Syrians.
Some have been there for over three years.
57% of the population of Za’atari is under age 18; 20% are under age 5.
Even more vulnerable than refugees living in camps, are those hidden in the shadows of urban areas. Crowded into ramshackle apartments or abandoned buildings, these families face hopelessness everyday. They can’t work legally, so they scrape together a living by cleaning toilets or hauling produce. Even children search for odd jobs to earn a few coins. UN-provided food vouchers offer help, but never enough to fill hungry bellies.
The Iraqi Refugee Surge
In recent months, Syrian refugees have been joined by 1.8 million Iraqis fleeing ISIS. Many of these displaced people left behind successful businesses and middle-class lifestyles, losing everything. I’ve heard of soldiers ripping gold earrings from little girls’ ears, determined that displaced families would have nothing of material value. You can learn more about the plight of displaced Iraqis here.
For two years, I’ve been following the stories of Syrian refugees—and more recently the stories of displaced Iraqis—and vetting organizations serving them. Last May I traveled to Jordan to see for myself what refugees face.
I discovered a grim reality; I met competent, loving mothers and grandmothers—women so much like me and my friends—who were suddenly dependent for their next meal on the kindness of strangers. (You can read about my experience with these women here.) But in Jordan I also enjoyed glimpses of hope. I found local churches and NGOs starting educational programs for refugees not eligible for public education. I saw newly created “child-friendly spaces,” safe places where kids can play and just be kids again. I saw wise and loving adults using arts and music and stories to begin the healing of trauma.
In the midst of such darkness, the amazing people I met are being lights in the darkness and agents of restoration. And we get to join them.
The need to give generously to help amazing people in Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq is becoming dire. For years, the need has been great. And now, a new tragedy is shaping up.
One million people who have survived and fled the civil war in Syria and ISIS in Iraq now face the deadly cold of winter without the basic necessities to keep them alive: shelter, heaters, warm clothing, mattresses, blankets, and, of course, food.
If you would like to know how GAiN is working with Syrian refugees and IDPs, click here.