“It’s so cold. The families who come to us feel terrible because of the cold and fear, and the struggle to come all the way from Mosul to this place.” —Firas, hospitality center manager
We scraped snow off our windshields this morning, it’s that cold.
And as much as we appreciate the beauty, it is impossible to forget the families that ran from Mosul today, newly displaced, fleeing from ISIS and completely unsure of what is ahead.
As we ramp up emergency relief efforts in Aleppo, Syria, we continue to help Iraqi families who are caught up in the war against ISIS. So far, most families have stayed put—either by choice or necessity.
But many of those who run are fleeing south from the Mosul area, and many of them land at our "hospitality center," where they can catch their breath and plan their next steps.
That’s where you meet them.
This summer, we set up two huge tents at a screening checkpoint on the road south of Mosul. They were located at a military bottleneck, where fleeing families had to wait in the 115-degree heat while they tried to prove their innocence—to convince security forces that they weren’t part of ISIS, simply civilians trying to survive.
We offered practical dignity there, in the form of shade and washrooms, food and water.
When the flood of families slowed to a trickle, and then dried up altogether, we moved the tents north closer to Mosul and set up a hospitality center even closer to the front lines and closer to the current need.
That’s where we spoke with site manager Firas a few mornings ago, as he was busy helping families make arrangements to move on. “I just spoke with an old woman here with her children,” he told us. “She has no husband here, it’s just her and her children. They were wandering around, not knowing what to do.”
When families flee Mosul and the surrounding area for somewhere safer, they eventually find themselves at militarized checkpoints. These are spots where weighty decisions are made. Who is safe enough to allow to go on? Who might be ISIS members and need to be held for further investigation? Who has family in southern Iraq who can vouch for their character and is willing to sponsor them? Who is without family in safe areas—who needs to go to a displacement camp?
At the checkpoint near our hospitality center, the whole process is currently taking less than an hour. But it’s an overwhelming experience for people already disoriented by having just fled home.
Our amazing team members like Firas help to ease the situation. Firas makes sure that fleeing families get out of the cold, warm up, and have a rest. He makes sure they get water to drink. He helps with coordination for families who have sponsors, so they can get on their way as quickly as possible. And for families who don’t have sponsors, he directs them to camps.
This hospitality center is the kind of place where a frightened old woman, worried about what will happen to her and her children, is seen and helped. It’s a place where stress is diffused. It’s a place where dignity is restored.
And that matters. Because it’s often our most vulnerable times that solidify our ideas about the world around us. We hear our local team members stress the importance of the hospitality center—love is shared and violence is unmade.
Sometimes what is needed most is a friendly face and the ready answer: “Yes, yes I can help you!”
We continue to work hard to provide displaced families what they need, where they need it—to see the person beyond the need.
Please show hospitality to vulnerable people displaced by violence. Give today.