Save the Children is also remaining, securing safe places to play in refugee camps, said Erin Taylor, senior director of communications. Basic services are provided, but they must wait until they can determine how and when to safely scale up delivery.
Ibrahim Nseir, pastor of the Presbyterian Church of Aleppo and a board member of the Synod of Syria and Lebanon, said their three sister churches in the area are well-qualified to help, but have no funding.
Until now, Christian communities have primarily relied on their own. Ashur Eskrya, president of the Assyrian Aid Society (AAS), said that roughly 700 Assyrian Christian families and 27 Armenian families fled the conflict zone, relocating to churches and family members in Hasakeh, Qamishli, and Damascus. Other Armenians went to Aleppo.
But Edward Clancy, director of outreach for Aid to the Church in Need USA (ACN), said his Catholic organization, working in Syria since 2011, is hindered from providing immediate support through their church networks.
ACN has been providing assistance in regime-held areas where the needs have been greater—until now. There are roughly 30–35 Christian villages in Kurdish-held areas, he said, but many are practically ghost towns. Stability must come first, and then those who remain can assess their needs.
From Iraq, one already has. Bashar Warda, Chaldean Catholic Archbishop of Erbil in the autonomous region of Kurdistan, asked the church to prepare to receive another wave of refugees. He prayed the government would let them in.
The UN says only about 1,000 Kurds have fled to Iraq. Ashty Bahro, vice president of the Evangelical Alliance of Kurdistan and head of Zallal Life, a Christian NGO, puts the number between 2,000 to 3,000. His multi-ethnic staff includes Kurds, Arabs, Muslims, and Yazidis. As a rule, they don’t ask how many refugees are Christian.
Though in full agreement, Steve Gumaer, founder and president of Partners Relief and Development, takes great care in this regard. Partners is a signatory to the Red Cross and Red Crescent Code of Conduct, which forbids aid from being used to further a particular political or religious standpoint.
“I can’t think of a worse time to ask people to change their religion than when they are facing a crisis,” he said. And when people ask, he tells them, “You matter, and how we treat you is the acid test of our faith.”
Partners first registered in Erbil in 2012, and began working in Syria in 2014. Having built strong partnerships with the Kurds, they are also one of the few organizations remaining in the northeast, with a focus on children.
Raqqa, the former capital of ISIS’ proclaimed caliphate, has been a center of their work. It is a third regional city to which Christians are fleeing. Partners rebuilt five area schools, returning 1417 children to an education.
Prior to the Turkish attack, an American child psychologist was due to arrive in 2020. While plans and permits may depend on ongoing stability, Gumaer is astounded by the overall resilience of those they serve.
“There are 160,000 people without a home today because of decisions made a week ago,” he said. “I’m not interested in counseling others on how to make sense of their suffering, when I can do something to help prevent it.”