Iraq: Letter from CRS in Iraq

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

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

Editor’s Note: Kris Ozar, CRS head of programming, Iraq and Egypt, sends us 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 donate-nowgrounds 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.

The solidarity expressed by fellow Iraqi families here is stunning. But what they have to give barely scratches the surface.

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

Kris Ozar
CRS Head of Programs, Iraq and Egypt

Comments

  1. Karen Estes says:

    Dear Chris Ozar,

    The Christian people of Iraq, and all Christians around the world, who are suffering persecution are on my mind and in my prayers daily. I will see what I can do to help them monetarily. I coordinate Elementary Religious Formation and Sacramental Prep in my Parish. About twice a year I encourage the students to participate in a “Mission of Love” project for the needy, either by bringing in monetary donations or non-perishable food items. Possibly, I can make this our “Mission of Love’ project for the Iraqi people by having the children bring in monetary donations. In the meantime, I will continue to pray for these people and have all my students pray for them, as well.

    May God bless you,
    Karen Estes
    kestes@cdlex.org

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