Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, including more than 100,000 Christians, have been displaced by IS (Islamic State, formerly ISIS) since early June, when the insurgents invaded Mosul. Many have fled from major cities like Mosul and Qaraqosh, known as the Christian capital of Iraq, and villages on the Nineveh plain, to places such as Erbil in the north of the country.
With such a high influx of internally displaced people in Erbil, houses of relatives are full with families and churches are running out of space to host more people.
One of the churches Open Doors is involved with is helping over 360 families staying in Erbil, of which 216 families live in the courtyard of the church. Every day the church gives out breakfast, lunch and dinner to over a thousand people.
At another church, the yard and the nearby public park are fully occupied, with around 650 families staying there – new families arriving every day. Lane after lane, tent after tent, every tree and piece of shade is occupied by elderly people, mothers, fathers, young adults, teenagers and children. In total, there are about 650 families here, with new people arriving every day. The pastor is ministering to everyone – Christians, Muslims, Yazidis and other minorities.
Father Emanuel in front of a line of tents, where about 650 families are living in Erbil. At night the walkways are filled with mattresses. Open Doors is involved in providing relief, such as food and mattresses.
“The place is crowded,” explains an Open Doors worker. “At night, even the walking areas are used by people to lay down a mattress. People sleep in the open air, accompanied by centipedes (and) cockroaches…”
Our worker also visited a primary school, filled with people who fled from Qaraqosh. Every classroom is a temporary home for three or more families. Most mattresses are piled up in the corner during the day and the students’ desks are used for storing food. Open Doors spoke with one family who had fled with just three hours notice, taking only the clothes on their backs. It was the third time in less than a decade they had had to flee because of their faith.
Our worker showed the mother of the family pictures of recent prayer meetings in England and the Netherlands. Despite the pain and uncertainty about her future, a smile lit up her face – amazed and thankful that people would care about her and the Christians of Iraq. Soon, we hope, photos of prayer meetings across Australia will bring a moment of joy to other families, too.
As believer Raja* told another Open Doors worker:
“It’s encouraging to see that around the world people are supporting us. We are still proud to be Christians. We will always be.”
*Name has been changed for security purposes