Thousands of refugees stream across the Tigris River from Syria into Iraq. Photo: Galiya Gubaeva/UNHCR
By David Tereshchuk*
In this month of December 2014 the already massive flow of people displaced by Syria’s violent conflict since 2011 is approaching a new, dramatically high point.
Those forced to abandon their homes are now set to make up a somber statistic: half of their nation’s entire population.
More than 3 million Syrians have fled abroad to find refuge in other countries—while nearly 7 million are classed as displaced persons within their own borders.
It represents a phenomenal tide of dislocated humanity, and largely because of this Syrian upheaval, the United Nations calculates the global total for displaced persons to have now surpassed 50 million—more than at any time since World War II.
Simultaneously, the funds raised internationally to assist all these homeless Syrian families are running short. The UN’s World Food Program reported at the beginning of December that it will have to curtail its provision of food vouchers to the displaced Syrians it helps; the vouchers enable families to buy food locally in their new temporary locations.
The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) is determined that the dispossessed of Syria should not be forgotten.
“Can you imagine the impact of such violent disruption?” asked the Rev. Jack Amick, UMCOR’s assistant general secretary for International Disaster Response. “Consider if you walked down the streets of your neighborhood, and discovered that half of your neighbors had been driven from their homes.”
He added: “At Christmastime, we look at the manger scene, but we can forget that The Holy Family basically were displaced persons. When we pray for peace on earth this Christmas, let’s remember those whose lives have been turned upside down because in recent times, they have known no peace.”
Refuge Sought Within and Across Borders
UMCOR is working to support the displaced in partnership with well-placed local humanitarian organizations in Syria itself and in several of its neighboring countries—Turkey, Lebanon, Iraq and Jordan.
Local and regional partners include the Turkey-based International Blue Crescent (IBC) and International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC), as well as two international organizations with deeply rooted experience in the region—International Relief and Development (IRD) and GlobalMedic.
The territories where UMCOR help is being provided include parts of Syria (especially around Homs and Aleppo) and also across borders, in Iraq (notably the Kurdish-administered areas), Turkey (mostly the frontier districts of Killis, Suruç and Mursitpinar), and Lebanon, whose hospitality has meant that refugees now comprise about a quarter of the country’s entire population). UMCOR’s Armenia country office also has welcomed Armenian Syrians who have fled there.
Cold Winter Ahead
The projects that UMCOR is supporting range from the distribution of food kits, hygiene kits and water purification systems, to much-needed winterization efforts amid the temporary accommodations where displaced communities have had to settle. In Lebanon, UMCOR has supported the rehabilitation of early childhood centers, among other projects.
Amick posed a poignant question: “How many anonymous holy families—people on the run, for whom God cares deeply—are facing the cold winter in Syria, Turkey, Iraq and Lebanon, and many other places this Christmas?”
The scripture story of Christmas, Amick recalled, includes the flight into Egypt, and Jesus’ adult life involved years of wandering ministry. “Such powerful examples of being uprooted,” he said, “remind us that the people God calls blessed, and the people who have led us in faith, are often poor and without a place to call home.”
Your gift to International Disaster Response Advance #982450 will help support the displaced families of Syria, and will help UMCOR respond to natural disasters and human crises around the world.
* David Tereshchuk is a journalist and media critic who contributes regularly to www.umcor.org.