Written by Justin Slimm and Lucas Meyer
“Almost everybody can now tell you a story of having had a loved one killed or missing.”
That’s the reality for millions of refugees displaced by conflict in Iraq and Syria and a Calgary aid official is back from seeing it firsthand.
Samaritan’s Purse has been working with refugees for several years in Kurdistan of northern Iraq, with regional director of projects in Asia and the Middle East, Bruce Piercey, recently returning to Calgary from his latest mission at a camp in the region.
Last year at his location, the goal was short-term needs like providing food, shelter and winter clothing for those fleeing from ISIS.
This year, the focus has been long-term needs like emotional and psychological counselling and helping children who don’t have school to go to, but the challenge is daunting.
One family Piercey meets includes 16 Syrians living in a small two-room apartment in complete isolation, without the means to set up work for themselves.
Another family of 33 lives in a small shelter they built themselves on the side of the road.
“Most people would love to go back, but they’re rapidly losing hope that this war is ever going to end. I met with one man who told me that he’s convinced that ISIS is here to stay,” Piercey said. “There’s a rumour going around that the West has cut a deal, agreeing to let ISIS have their own country, so as people lose hope of ever returning to their home, then they start looking elsewhere and I think that’s the driving force between what we’re seeing in Europe right now.”
Piercey is fortunate never to have gotten close to ISIS fighters, but the camp he works at was shelled at one point and was within a few kilometres of being overrun, but eventually the insurgents were pushed back about 50 kilometers.
Those living at the camp include the Yazidis, one of the minority groups ISIS has attempted to exterminate.
Despite the dire reality, Piercey says those he works with still show compassion.
“They will always offer you tea or coffee and if you can take the time to hear their story, that is in itself a form of counselling for them, to realize that their story has been told, that somebody has listened, that somebody will make sure that they’re not forgotten,” he said.
Piercey added with over 14 million people displaced from the region, what’s seen in Europe is just the overflow of the situation and it’s up to world leaders to come up with a sustainable strategy.
“Ultimately, the world will have to get its act together and bring an end to this violence, to create a solution,” he said. “In the meantime, all we can do is provide compassion and support to the people who really need it.”
Help families in the Middle East who have been displaced as a result of violent conflict and religious persecution receive the physical and spiritual aid they so desperately need to cope with the resulting poverty and trauma.