Ava Thomas/Baptist Press
MOSUL, Iraq (BP) – Sudden intense fighting in Iraq has prompted a “double crisis” in the region, with Iraqi refugees compounding the already heavy burden of the Syrian refugee crisis, said Don Alan,* a Christian leader in the region.
Half a million Iraqis left Mosul last week when the city fell under attacks by extremist group Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), fleeing with their families into Kurdish-ruled northern Iraq and neighboring countries. Thousands more have flooded out of other parts of Iraq besieged by militants.
The thousands of Iraqi refugees join the overwhelming crowd of their Syrian neighbors – the 6.5 million people displaced within Syria and 3 million Syrian refugees who have fled to nearby countries in the four years since the Syrian crisis began.
“This creates a double crisis at a time when we can barely handle Syria,” Alan said.
Christian workers in contact with Iraqi refugees are providing water, infant formula and other provisions, he said. “The need for simple things like water, food and tents is what is pushing people right now. We have released some initial support and hopefully can mobilize some more.”
Right now, the need is staggering and resources are few, Alan said. And the fighting only continues to worsen.
ISIS, a group with strongholds in Syria, has moved into Iraq in recent days, taking multiple cities by force and marching swiftly toward Baghdad. As its militants have advanced, they have executed Iraqi soldiers in mass summary killings the U.S. government condemned as “horrifying.”
The insurgent group aims to create an Islamist-ruled area covering northern Iraq and northwest Syria, according to news reports.
“And now the fears of one really big war seem to be coming true,” David Brooks, a New York Times columnist, wrote. “The ISIS serves as a de facto government in growing areas of Syria and Iraq. Extremist armies are routing the official Iraqi Army, even though they are outmanned by as many as 15 to 1. Iraq is in danger of becoming a non-nation.”
The growing instability is one of Alan’s greatest concerns.
“The biggest concern is that this will continue to further destabilize Iraq,” he said. “It’s been unstable but not tilting, but now I would say it’s tilting toward civil war or unrest.”
As things “tilt,” the refugee crisis will only worsen, Alan said. But he challenges Christians not to “grow weary from doing good.”
“It’s easy to look at another emerging problem and think, ‘This is too much – I’m done,’” he said. “I want us to be a people who persevere until the end, until His glory comes.”
A battle rages for the hearts, minds and souls of the people of Iraq and Syria, Alan said.
“We as the church have to step up to the challenge that this kind of darkness gives us,” he said. “It may be going or standing with our brothers and sisters financially.”
Christians need to be “on our knees asking the Father for mercy for those who are suffering and those who are in darkness,” Alan said. “We need to embrace the challenge before us. May we be God’s people for this hour. May we not stand back and think all is lost but claim glory to God when all is hopeless.” (*Name changed)