After a first humanitarian mission to Syria in Christmas 2013, a team of volunteers flew to Iraq in April 2014 to celebrate Christ's resurrection with Iraqi Christians. In Qaraqosh, they delivered equipment essential for the survival of the local community. From this maiden voyage that brought them across Iraqi Kurdistan and the plain of Nineveh, they already grasped the importance of the presence of French young people among Christians in the Middle East.
On the night of August 6, 2014, 55,000 people fled Qaraqosh to save their lives. The Plain of Nineveh has just fallen into the hands of the Islamic state organization. In less than 72 hours, a team of SOS Chrétiens d’Orient fly to Erbil and is developing an emergency project to meet first needs of food and medical necessities. In Erbil, around 80,000 displaced Christians, deprived of their property and sometimes separated from their families, are piling up under a sun of lead, the heat sores to more than 40°C in the shade, in church halls or in public gardens, before being relocated to buildings under construction, open to the winds. The logistical problems of water and electricity supply are therefore very important. From the opening of the Ankawa camp mall, on the outskirts of Erbil, SOS Chrétiens d’Orient organizes the distribution of drinking water and food packages.
In August 2014, a permanent mission was opened in Erbil to assist the families of displaced persons and families of disadvantaged local communities.
Regarding the identified needs, three levels of action are immediately put in place.
The development of the situation is rapid, and the association is working on a wide range of emergency actions: distribution of blankets, cookers, food and clothing. To counter an extremely difficult daily life of the refugees, sports activities or cultural events are organized daily: for young people, choreography and manual activities; for teenagers, football and volleyball tournaments; for the oldest, backgammon or dominoes tournaments.
The structural projects respond to the medium-term needs of the people. Thus, the association provides a rapid response, such as the construction of a water purification system, a chicken coop, gardens, collective kitchen and so that refugees socialize.
The association also carries out long-term projects in the heart of the Christian communities in Iraq. These projects are varied. They relate to education, with school buildings (in Mangesh where 300 children are enrolled and in Erbil where 643 children are enrolled), or the organization of French language courses by volunteers. The association also provides medical facilities, rebuilds clinics and distributes medicines. Finally, SOS Chrétiens d’Orient is investing in rebuilding homes destroyed by war.
In October 2016, after more than two years, the Christian villages of the Nineveh Plain were finally released, only ghosts remain: houses were burned, bombed, devastated, churches desecrated. The walls still standing are marked with propaganda inscriptions left by ISIS.
This terrible past will never be forgotten, but today these families are looking forward to the future.
In 2018, the challenge of the mission in Iraq will be to support the return of families to their recently liberated villages. This is already underway because the mission has launched several programs for rebuilding houses in Qaraqosh and in various Christian villages in the plain of Nineveh. It was necessary to rehabilitate dwellings quickly, to re-establish water and electricity networks, to renovate each room in order to install a minimum of health. But there's still a lot to do.
Today, the future of Iraq is in your hands, but we must help Christians to turn their hopes into reality.
Maps of the missions
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