What we can do
by Felicitas Fröhlich
[Note: Fröhlich is currently participating in the CPT delegation to Iraqi Kurdistan.]
Although it is very difficult to pin down the exact numbers of the humanitarian crisis in Iraqi Kurdistan, an estimated three million people there have been internally displaced by the Syrian conflict, ISIS (called DAESH/DAASH by the locals) and earlier by the US invasion of Iraq. We began to get a grasp of its scale as we visited the UNHCR camps and encountered the refugees and IDPs spread around the edges of many cities, listening to their often horrific personal stories.
I remember a girl, Aasema, physically demonstrating what had happened to her family. I will never forget how she held up her two tiny fingers, her "Aunts," her fearful whisper, "Daesh...” and her re-enacting how they got captured and carried away. I also won't forget the hospitality offered by Edris, who survived the massacre of his village, and his expressing the most profound gratitude for everyone who had helped him.
Numbers provide an idea of the extent of the tragedy, and the personal encounters helped us to understand the experience the individuals suffering. But that is not what I came here for. The question whether we're actually helpful occurred to me repeatedly. Some days the answer would be a definite yes, other days it doesn’t really seem so. As a human rights organization that advocates for peace, we were not able to free the Ezidis, nor did we provide any food, blankets, or medical care. We have the privilege to leave the country any time, and there are many at home who are waiting and praying for us daily, whereas all the spiritual support should be going to the men, women, and children who have no family left to pray for them.
So, what are we providing? The Christian Peacemaker Team in Iraqi Kurdistan and their local partners are continually providing information about refugees who have not yet received care to the media, the parliament, the United Nations and several Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs). CPT also helps Kurdish NGOS with their fundraising, linking several communities together to support each other. And sometimes, it's just a nice distraction to have some weird-looking foreigners at camp who entertain the kids and drink tea with the elderly, if only for an hour. But I found these contributions unsatisfying, given the extreme circumstance and urgent needs.
Do I still believe in what we are doing? Yes, maybe even more than before. Solidarity has its own power and most importantly, our job here is to listen. As one young woman said, "Some of us are not talking anymore and some of us have to talk all the time. I have to share my story, and I am grateful for anyone who is listening because I know that it is not a nice story."
One day—inshallah—the crisis will be over and there will be plenty to do for anyone who is willing to raise his or her voice in the name of peace and reconciliation.