On June 9, 2014, ISIS forces advanced into Northern Iraq and took over Iraq’s second largest city of Mosul setting off a torrent of refugees and IDPs that has continued unabated until today. Recent figures place the number of IDPs and refugees well over 2 million, settling mainly in Kurdistan, which is an autonomous region of Northern Iraq. In the midst of turmoil and war, we know that God has placed us here for “such a time as this.” For the past seven years, World Orphans has been making inroads into the region by helping with orphan care and widows through the development of The Refuge - a community center project located just 18 miles from the border of Iran and 24 miles from the border of Turkey.
This strategic region has become a key component in the care of refugees and IDPs, expanding our ministry into what we now call The Refuge Initiative.
Building Camps of Refuge
On September 9, 2014, The Refuge Initiative opened the very first refugee camp in Soran, Iraq on the grounds of its community center known as The Refuge. What began as a desire to help 20 Shabak families has turned into a regional effort to build camps of refuge for the most vulnerable IDP and refugee families. In partnership with the local governments of Soran and Rwandz - and with the involvement of several charities and NGO’s - The Refuge Initiative is providing shelter, food, water, and electricity to more than 80 Yezidi and Shabak families (600 individuals). Each camp is uniquely built with a kitchen, bathroom, and living areas specific for the needs of each family unit.
Restoring Dignity and Hope
At the heart of our humanitarian efforts is to build communities of hope at each of our camps. We do this by keeping the size of each camp no larger than 50 families (micro-camps), and where possible, from the same family or tribal background. This enables us to preserve existing social and relational structures, promotes autonomy and maintains the dignity of those in our care. In the face of incredible suffering and persecution we believe that our model of refugee care builds the platform for hope to rise up within the lives of every individual.
Pathway Back to Independence
The Refuge Initiative is not only building places of refuge, but also actively involved in providing pathways to recovery and independent living for those within our care. Our community center, The Refuge, is a fully functioning vocational training and education center equipped with classrooms, a conference room, event hall, and soccer stadium. We are currently partnering with internationally renowned clinical psychologists and organizations to provide access to leading mental health at all our locations. In addition to providing substantial employment to dozens of IDPs and refugees through the construction of our camps, many have started small businesses in the local markets or have found other work.
We are witnessing first hand The Refuge Initiative camps actually becoming communities of hope.
Timeline of Work in Northern Iraq
- July 2007 - World Orphans in Kurdistan
- July 2008 - Assessing the need for orphan & widow care in Kurdistan
- March 2009 - Strategic partnership formed with the Mayor of Soran
- October 2009 - Groundbreaking of the community center in Shahidani Azadi
- Fall 2010 - Development of Soccer clinics
- Summer 2011 - Community Center completes phase 1 of construction.
- Fall 2011 - Establish periodic medical clinics in partnership with US doctors.
- January 2012 - First women and children classes begin employing local staff.
- Fall 2013 - Soccer field expansion
- September 2014 - The first refugee camp is built in Soran
- November 2014 - Humanitarian aid expands to Peshmerga widows and dozens of individual IDP/refugee families throughout the region.
- March 2015 - The second floor of the community center is completed
- March 2015 - Work expands to include the construction of 4 more refugee camps in Rwandz for 70+ Yezidi families
As we continue to see and hear the horrors of ISIS in Iraq, may we all be moved to prayer, hope, and action. Though ISIS is running many away, the gospel is alive and active. We are thankful that God has invited us to his providential work of welcoming many to a place they will call home.