You could feel the happiness in their hearts.” Marina Mardirossian co-ordinated and attended all of the Christmas meal project events that LSESD had held for refugees, but there was something special about the last one at the Chaldean Church in Beirut on 31 January. Over 200 Iraqi kids were there enjoying the worship, puppet show and meal before receiving food vouchers for their families. Marina sensed an overwhelming feeling of joy and appreciation from both the church and the children. “All at the church were happy, the priests and even the head of the Chaldean Church,” says Marina. “They thanked us many times.”
Marina tried to find out from the children why they had come from Iraq to Lebanon, but they were shy and not very forthcoming. Six-year-old Pedro didn’t know why he had left. Nine year old Zeina had moved to Lebanon in November. When Marina asked her what she had done the previous Christmas, she couldn’t remember anything. “She kept saying there was bombing everywhere,” Marina says. Jinan, a nine year old girl said her home in Iraq had been destroyed. When asked why he had come to Lebanon Samoel, a ten year old boy, simply replied “Ethajarna”, which means they had been ‘displaced’ or ‘kicked out’.
These children are part of the estimated 2,500 Iraqi refugees who have fled from Iraq to Lebanon. Many have left because they were forced to leave their homes by fundamentalist organisation Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant when they advanced into Mosul and the surrounding region last summer. Suzie Lahoud, LSESD’s Community Development Program Officer, has met refugees that have escaped Iraq, including an Assyrian Church priest.
“I remember him sharing with tears in his eyes that verse ‘Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell’ [Matthew 10:28],” says Suzie.
Unlike most Syrian refugees who want to go back once the war is over, many Iraqis feel they cannot go back. They feel like they have been expelled for good from communities their families have lived in for hundreds of years.“ He quoted it in the Assyrian language they use in church which is essentially Aramaic, the language of Christ. He said ‘We had to flee but the ultimate thing is that we are still in Christ and have our faith in God.’ I thought that was an amazing response.”
The trauma of the upheaval they have faced has exacerbated health issues within the Iraqi community. Research carried out by LSESD among Iraqi refugees has found many are suffering from high blood pressure and chronic illnesses such as cancer, heart disease and kidney disease, which if not treated could be life threatening. LSESD staff visited one young girl who has Lupus, which means her family needs money to fund her treatment on a regular basis. LSESD is supporting her and ensuring her siblings get tested regularly to check that they have not contracted the illness as well. LSESD is also now providing medical aid to those that need it through two churches in Beirut that are already assisting Iraqi refugees.
LSESD is also helping internally displaced refugees back in Iraq through a local partner. From December 2014 until the end of May 2015, LSESD is supporting 70 families (approximately 420 individuals) in Baghdad from a variety of minority groups (Christians, Shi’a, Yazidis and Shabak). Each month these families are receiving food aid, hygiene kits, and milk and diapers for mothers with young children, in addition to a one-time distribution of winterization items such as blankets, m
Please pray for LSESD’s work among Iraqi refugees, that we may be able to give children like Jinan, Zeina, Samoel and their families a more hopeful future.attresses and heaters.
By Chris Hall | LSESD | March 2015