Local churches as well as Christian organizations like Open Doors and Preemptive Love Coalition have prioritized caring for the citizens who took the risk to stay behind and helping the displaced return.
Fadi Habsouna, a father of two, was injured when missiles hit his home and ruined his shop. His wife is in critical condition. His grandfather’s home was destroyed by a bomb. The pastor housed them in church-owned property, and decided to remain to assist the family, and others suffering similarly.
“These are extremely brave people who want to be salt and light in their communities,” said David Curry, CEO of Open Doors USA, who relayed this story from his field staff. “They want to maintain the presence of Jesus and reach out.”
Open Doors is better known for its advocacy work on behalf of the persecuted; Syria ranks no. 11 on its World Watch List of places hardest to be a Christian. Its local partners keep a low profile in order to provide on the ground assessment. But the crisis in Syria has driven them to humanitarian aid.
It is not the first time. Following the rise of ISIS in 2014, Open Doors helped 150,000 Christians located in camps along the Turkish and Lebanese borders. Now their community hubs are providing food, medical care, hygiene kits, and temporary shelter in the northeast Syrian towns affected by the Turkish incursion.
The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported that 146 civilians have died so far. Over 160,000 have fled, including 70,000 children. The Kurdish-led local authority counted the total displaced at over 275,000. Of the 3 million people who lived in the northeast, 1.25 million were already receiving UN aid. Now the number in need has risen to 1.8 million, including 900,000 in acute need.
The situation may get worse before it gets better, especially as most NGOs were forced by the violence to leave the area entirely. It is not yet clear how the deal struck between the US and Turkey will affect operations.
Under terms announced in a joint statement announced Thursday, Turkey will pause their offensive for five days, allowing Kurdish troops to withdraw. Turkey will then take control of a 20-mile deep safe zone running 280 miles along much of the border with Syria.
“We just cannot effectively operate with the heavy shelling, roads closing, and the various and constantly changing armed actors in the areas where we are working,” said Made Ferguson, deputy country director for Mercy Corps, which had been operating in the area since 2014.
Other major agencies, like Médecins Sans Frontières, have also had to relocate. The UN remains, but the World Health Organization has reported that two national hospitals, three field hospitals, and several health centers are either out of commission or offering limited services.
“We’ve been able to continue, because we work with and through locals who know the area, know the needs, and know the security situation extremely well,” said Jeremy Courtney, founder of Preemptive Love, which has been active in Syria since 2016. “That said, this is very much a high-risk environment.”
“It is likely that families will continue to be displaced from the border zone as Turkish forces move in,” according to their official statement. “Those already displaced may have no home left to go back to, as a direct result of this deal.”