Over the years, 222’s presence in Turkey has given us various opportunities to get involved in the relief of humanitarian crises. Our established church communities have been perfectly placed to enable us to play a role in reaching out to others in need as these opportunities have presented themselves. God has blessed us, not only with this position, but also with staff in our churches who have the skills and the language ability to build bridges and reach out to other people groups.
Many Christians have been forced to flee Iraq and Syria as a result of conflict in recent years, not just because of the collateral risks they face as civilians, but also because they have been specifically targeted for their faith by groups on all sides of the conflicts. They have suffered disproportionately for being Christians, with homes looted and destroyed, businesses lost and family members and friends killed.
The UNHCR currently reports that Turkey hosts 2.75 million registered Syrian refugees. In a Muslim country dealing mainly with Muslim refugees, Christian refugees are not given any priority. The circumstances of their persecution are not recognised, even by most Western governments, despite widespread international acknowledgement that they have been subject to genocide.
The Syrian and Iraqi Christian refugee families we have identified come from Chaldean Assyrian, Orthodox, Evangelical and Armenian backgrounds. Many families are now resigned that they will have to remain in Turkey for a long time. The UNHCR appears not to give any priority to Christians.
Khana lost her husband seven years ago in Iraq. She now lives in central Turkey with her teenage son and daughter. Lack of money forced her to work for long hours to make ends meet. They received three lots of support from 222, including payment for their utility bills and supply of food and clothing.
What has 222 done so far?
222 has Farsi-speaking churches in 16 cities in Turkey, including both Christian refugees who have escaped persecution in Iran and other Farsi-speakers, including some Afghans. At the end of 2015, 222 established a small team at one of our churches in Central Anatolia to assess the situation of Christian refugees from Syria and Iraq.
In December 2015, 222 began helping about 120 families, mainly from an Assyrian background. Many were wary as they felt let down by failed promises and what they felt was the bias of the West against them as Christian refugees. Our team’s sensitive approach, explaining our motivation to help Christians in need, helped develop trust with both the families and their churches; we have since identified over 2,000 families in several cities in Turkey.
222 has provided support including food, utilities (especially heating in winter), assistance for medical treatment and legal advice for asylum applications through the UNHCR. We want to see this Christian community encouraged, supported and built up in each of the cities where they live.
222 Ministries has to remain focused in alleviating suffering where there is greater need and vulnerability. Our approach is intentional towards the following three areas:
- Children under the age of seven with need for nourishment and supplements specially those orphaned.
- Widows and bereaved who have lost a spouse due to the calamities of war.
- The elderly above sixty years old, who are either suffering from illness or frail and cannot work and earn.
In over 1,000 families we have noted 3,273 children. We are praying for resources and material and strong partnerships to meet this huge need. These children need Christian material, education, prayer and support. Financial resources are a part of the need but not all. Children’s printed resources are needed in Arabic. We have interviewed over 20 extremely capable Iraqi and Syrian men and women, as well as youth, who are passionate and qualified to work with the children. If we could rent apartments in various cities and hire a few workers, great and lasting impact could be made.
Hamid suffers from diabetes and needed admission to hospital for a period. Unable to pay for his medical needs, and with no other support, 222 helped him with treatment costs.
222’s small team is led by Rodney Issavi, an Assyrian from Kermanshahr, Iran. Rodney has two Farsi-speaking workers, Elham (who speaks English) and Ehsan; they mainly help in the office, as they don’t speak Assyrian and Rodney has recruited two Assyrians to help with distribution.
The team established contacts with the Assyrian community, being careful to include church leaders. We have been encouraged as we have seen trust grow and we have built a good reputation. The challenge is that expectation has grown, and Rodney now receives high volumes of calls seeking further help.
What impact has 222 had?
So far 222 has helped 1,062 families in 10 cities in Turkey. The process is time consuming as each family is registered and assessed in person.
222 has provided between about $90 and $105 cash on average. The average food parcel was $70, offered to more than 60% of families. Also, during the winter period, support was provided to many families for utilities, including in some cases paying to reconnect electricity. Over 25% of families needed medical help, with an average bill of $135. Although several cities offer free medical treatment to refugees, others do not and we also need to help families post-discharge, with provision of medicines, post surgery attendance, doctors’ home visits and dressings.
Anna is suffering from breast cancer. She underwent surgery to remove her right breast, but now the cancer has spread to her left breast. When we met her, she was in urgent need of medical attention. We paid for her medical costs and also provided support for her family with urgently needed food and clothing.
Where is 222 going?
222’s team is small and establishing needs and distributing help from its centre in central Turkey across 10 cities has been very labour intensive. We are aware of so many more families in need of help, each with their own need and dire circumstance as those we have shared here. In order to help more people we need to:
- Recruit three or four more Assyrian Christians to support distribution; language remains a challenge.
- Establish a base in Istanbul for Christian refugees in this area and to co-ordinate our response for refugees returned from Europe to Turkey.
So far this year we have spent about $125,000, reflecting an average of about $125 per family of the more than 1,000 families we have reached so far. We want to meet their continuing needs and reach the other 1,000 families we have also identified.
Will you partner with us in bringing hope to our brothers and sisters in Christ who are in desperate need?
To get involved, please donate to our humanitarian work, or contact us directly:
Lazarus Yeghnazar, President of 222 Ministries – firstname.lastname@example.org
Simon Baynham, International Projects Director – email@example.com
Office phone: +44 1276 676520
*Some names have been changed to protect identity