INSIDE KURDISTAN'S REFUGEE CAMPS: A REPORT FROM RESCUE TASK FORCE

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Rescue Task Force, a nonprofit international rescue organization that started in East County, now has a team in Kurdistan/Iraq assisting the refugees there. It has been difficult even for major international media to get reports from inside this region, since many news organizations have pulled out their correspondents after the beheading of two journalists by ISIS terrorists (also known as ISIL or the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria). Today we received this report from Gary Becks, founder and president of RTF, on the situation he and his team have found there as they work to assist religious minorities forced to flee their homes.

By Gary Becks

October 5, 2014 (Kurdistan)--Less than one mile separated us from ISIS.  It was too close for comfort, but it was where comfort was needed the most.  One of our RTF mottos is: We Go To Where Others Will Not, To Do What Others Will Not’.

In the Nineveh region of Kurdistan (Iraq) there are formal refugee camps set up in proximity to major cities to help the one million two hundred thousand displaced people.

Out here in the hinterland, though, there are tens of thousands of refugees who fled from ISIS into these countryside areas where they had connections and/or to where they feel safer than in the large metropolitan camps.

It is in these rural villages RTF is needed, and where with a limited budget we can have major impact.  This team is indeed a Rescue Task Force team:  The two medical doctors who have accompanied us thus far are Assyrian Christians, one of whom lost her home and all material possessions when she fled from Mosul, the nearby city now controlled by ISIS.  Our dentist, Dr. Luis is from El Salvador and our volunteers are Assyrian lay-people.  Larry and Gary hold the flashlight and scrub the dental instruments.

Today we worked further away from the ISIS line; we were on the Kurdistan / Turkey border. Literally on the border in a rural farming community of (formerly) 350 families that has now doubled in population with newly arrived refugees.

The schools are closed as they, like the local church and empty building and homes, are filled with refugees.  The locals have brought in family, friends and strangers alike “I have two of these, here, take one”, “Here, come and sleep here...”  Christians helping Christians. Problem is the host Christians are poor to begin with…

In addition to the medical and dental teams, and the necessary medicines we have purchased locally we are delivering “Heart Medicine”:  Soccer balls for the kids – kids of all ages…  Imagine the horror just experienced and being driven out of your home with nothing but the clothes on your back – and having a family of kids.  The soccer balls are fun and activity for the kids, and relief for the parents.  We get quality soccer balls for $12 each.

The soccer balls are especially appreciated by the Yazidi refugees.  The Yazidi evacuees do not incorporate into the Assyrian and Chaldean Christian communities.  We see thousands and thousands of them in tents and deplorable make-shift shelters alongside the major roadways.  It is just not possible to set up our clinics at every encampment so, as we can, we stop at the smaller ones where 5-6 families are clustered, and give soccer balls and a little bit of cash for each family.  They have escaped with absolutely nothing.

We need help… we have had to replace some technical dental equipment and buy a second electricity converter after the first one burned out.  The biggest need is money for direct aid – Hand to Hand to Hand…Your Hand to RTF's hand to Their Hands…

Desperately needed medical supplies, over-the-counter meds, pharmaceuticals, household supplies, and... actually, everything and we are also setting up our distribution network for ocean freight containers of medicines and relief supplies.

But all of that is secondary.  One of the most valuable gifts we give is free… their knowing that someone cares.  These people, the Assyrians, Chaldeans and Kurds in general love America.  Merchants give us discounts and thanks for coming to help.  Most everywhere (“most” remember, this is a Muslim country) we go we are warmly greeted with great appreciation.

Marry Your Daughters

When ISIS overruns a city they give the Christians one of three choices:  Convert or be beheaded, pay an exorbitant tax or be beheaded, or get out now – with only the clothing on your back. 

What we have also learned is the admonition that if you do convert to Islam then your daughters become Muslim and we will marry them.  They do not convert, not because of that horrible thought, but because of their commitment to their faith.  (UN report yesterday:  450 girls captured in one ISIS strike were shipped off to Syria as gifts to ISIS fighters.)

Just being here for these victims lets them know someone really cares.  We, You, all of the RTF team and family are much appreciated.

Many of these rural Christians know and love America and Americans but before we came had never met an American.  Our being here, just as we always experience at disasters, just our showing up means so very much to so many hurting hearts.”

To learn more about Rescue Task Force or contribute to their efforts, you can visit www.RescueTaskForce.org.