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Christian and Yazidi families collect mattresses at a distribution event organised by CRS and Caritas Iraq, at the Church of Apostles in Fishkhabour, Northern Iraq. ©Hare Khalid / Metrography for Catholic Relief Services

Christian and Yazidi families collect mattresses at the Church of Apostles in Fishkhabour, Northern Iraq as Caritas relief reaches families in Iraq. ©Hare Khalid / Metrography for Catholic Relief Services

The plight of Iraqis fleeing persecution is a tragedy on an epic level, says Caritas Iraq. They’re working with Caritas Internationalis organisations to reach thousands of people in need.

More than 1 million people have fled their homes in northern and central Iraq as religious Sunni Muslim extremists calling themselves Islamic State have seized Ninewa, Salah Al-Din and Diyala provinces.

Many of those who have fled are Christians, Yazidis and Shia Muslims. They have been singled out for attacks. Their belongings are taken at Islamic State checkpoints. Women and girls have been kidnapped.

Those fleeing have arrived in Erbil, Dohuk and surrounding areas with nothing.

“The biggest challenge is shelter. Many families are living out in the open. They lack the basics. Temperatures are more than 45°C,” said Nabil Nissan, the Executive Director of Caritas Iraq.

Caritas Iraq has provided food, water, bedding and essential living supplies.

In the first phase, they reached 3000 families. Now into the second stage, they are aiding 2000 beneficiaries in Zakho and 3000 in Duhok.

The scale of the suffering is overwhelming relief efforts. Nabil Nissan isn’t despondent: “There is no place for despair in this crisis. We need patience, effort and resistance.”

[Tweet “@Pontifex calls for our prayers that Iraqis may soon be able to return to their homes”]

Emotional trauma is high, especially among religious and ethnic minorities who were the target of attacks.

“The shock they faced was horrific and had a great negative impact on their psychology,” said Nabil Nissan. “Imagine to be forced out of your house without being able to take anything to meet your needs.”

Caritas Iraq is working actively with Caritas member Catholic Relief Services. CRS will train staff and volunteers on trauma healing and the building of peaceful relations.

CRS and Caritas will provide children with education and exam preparation, while helping schools with the influx of children.

Kris Ozar, CRS head of programming, Iraq and Egypt, sends this letter about the displacement crisis in Iraq.

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

Greetings from Erbil in northern Iraq. I write from a place and time of tremendous need facing thousands of innocent families.

The scene around me is as dire as you can imagine. Tens of thousands of people — families who just weeks ago lived quiet, middle class lives — now find themselves sleeping under the open sky, in fear, with little left of a life they built, and questions abounding about what is to come. Thousands of Christian families are sleeping on the grounds of Church compounds, overcrowding the space and finding shade and relief where it is available.

The needs are as immense as they are basic. People need clothes to change what they’ve been wearing for the past several days. Many of the buildings or schools where people are staying don’t have showers. Families need water, food, soap, blankets, mattresses — you name it, they need it. They are living day to day, in hopes assistance will come but wondering what tomorrow will bring.

Our Catholic partners are working tirelessly to help. They have welcomed thousands of families on their grounds and are doing their best to provide all of the assistance they have available to them. You should also know that Iraqi communities are coming out to help, too — bringing bottles of water and warm, cooked food. The solidarity expressed by fellow Iraqi families here is stunning. But what they have to give barely scratches the surface. The conditions people are living in remind me of the forts I would build with my brothers in the suburbs of Detroit: find a bush or tree, crawl into a tiny sliver of shade to escape the heat, see what is around that we can use. Only this is as far from that experience as you can imagine.

CRS’ Kris Ozar joins the family of Bashar, a Caritas Staff member was caring for displaced Iraqi families before being displaced himself. Staf

CRS’ Kris Ozar joins the family of Bashar, a Caritas Staff member was caring for displaced Iraqi families before being displaced himself. Staf

The situation got especially personal on Monday. I was visiting a Catholic Church compound near where I’m staying in Erbil when I was stunned to find one of our Caritas colleagues there, living and sleeping on the grounds among hundreds of others disheveled and displaced. We had learned a few days ago that the offices of our Caritas partners in other parts of the country had to be abandoned due to the violence, and that some of our Caritas colleagues were forced to flee their homes and towns. We had tremendous concern for their whereabouts and safety.

And here was Bashar, protecting his family, including four children, under a small tree. This is a colleague who had I had come to know in previous visits, in far better circumstances. He had graciously welcomed me and other CRS colleagues over the past two years as a professional and warm-spirited peer in our work to help others in need. And now here he is, with nothing but the clothes he was wearing, sleeping on the dirt. We greeted each other warmly and I sat with him near their small tree, all that they can claim as shelter now. He showed me a video on his phone of the harrowing 10 hour journey it took to get his family here. His children were sleeping resting on the ground next to us in the only clothes they had. Despite all that Bashar is going through, they treated me as a guest there in the open air. They boiled water to offer me tea. Their hospitality was so deeply generous, it reminded me of the grace of humanity.

I have attached photos of me with Bashar and his family, as well as other images from the compound and the relief efforts.

The questions I find myself asked by Bashar and families in these Church compounds is, “Where do we go? What do we do?” I tell them that there are people around the world thinking of them, praying for them, and doing what we can to help. And, I let them know that, whatever is to come, we will be with them. I feel confident saying this because of the incredible support, spirit and reach of our CRS family.

Please keep Bashar and the Iraqi people in your thoughts and prayers. They need our help. They pray for relief. They deserve our humanity.

With sincere thanks from Erbil,

Kris

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