Syrian Christian Refugees Struggling in Turkey

 In the ancient town of Mardin, south Turkey, the sound of spoken Arabic rings out along the narrow alley behind Mardin’s Saint Shmuni Church. In a small home, just metres from the church, two Assyrian Christian women from Syria talk matter-of-factly about how their lives have fallen apart over the past four years:

A small congregation and priest pray at the Syriac Orthodox monastery in Mardin, Turkey. Photograph: Tarik Tinazay/AFP/Getty

“Myriam”, from Hassakeh in north-east Syria, moved to Mardin six years before the outbreak of war in 2011. A Syriac Orthodox Christian, she says all her family members remain in Hassakeh, where the kidnapping of well-to-do Christians has become commonplace.

“My cousin, in his 50s, was beaten badly and given only dry bread to eat for two months,” she said. “He was released after the kidnappers were given 12 million Syrian lira (€30,000). The constant, menacing threat from Islamic State jihadists, who prize Christian girls, lingers above the entire community.”

Her cousin “Kinda” fled Hassakeh last March and spent the summer in Lebanon. Today, Myriam and Kinda – who have asked to have their real names hidden for fear of reprisals against their families – share this spartan but cosy home in Mardin’s historic old town with their two children. Kinda’s husband is in Sweden, unable to work or to send money to his wife and child.

They say the local Syriac church gives them 25 Turkish lira (€8) per person every month, but in the past they received 100 lira (€31).

“Other than the church, no one is helping,” said Myriam.

Christian refugees from Syria have been placed close to churches in Mardin by the authorities, at the request of the refugees and local Christians. However, many Christians are reluctant to live in the government-built camps because they fear that they contain jihadists. This makes the Christians refugees vulnerable to the pitfalls of living outside the official support system, which, in turn, has put more pressure on Turkey’s churches and monasteries, particularly those close to the Syrian border.

The Syriac families of Hassakeh and north-east Syria make up one of the oldest Christian communities in the world. Today, their faith and way of life face destruction by Islamic State and a host of other extremist groups, and also by the promise of a new life and safety in Europe.

  • Pray for Syrian Christian refugees, many of whom are living outside of official support networks and struggling to survive. Pray for their faith to be strong, and to know the comfort and love of God around them, and provision of food and other needs for their families.
  • Pray for the Turkish churches who are supporting and providing for many refugees. Give thanks for their generosity, and pray for continued ability to provide for families who need their help.
  • Pray for the witness of these Christian refugees, and the Turkish church, that communities around them will also come to know the truth of the Gospel of Jesus.
  • Pray for protection for this Christians community, and for peace for Syria and the Middle East.

Psalm 10 vs 17 – 18: “O Lord, you will hear the desire of the meek; you will strengthen their heart, you will incline your ear  to do justice for the orphan and the oppressed, so that those from earth may strike terror no more.


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