Major problems for our Iraqi missions programs

By William J. Murray, Chairman

Girls hold diapers distributed by our Diapers for Refugees program

Girls hold diapers distributed by our Diapers for Refugees program

The general manager of the ministry that carries out our programs in Iraq is currently in the United States and may not be able to return to his base in Erbil except by dangerous means.

He and his wife (for security reasons I cannot use names) arrived in the United States on a special visa the last week of September. The purpose of their travel was to speak with the various ministries in the United States who support them and their organization in Erbil, which is located in the Kurdish region of Iraq.

While they were in Washington, DC I arranged an off-the-record meeting for Maher with an official with the State Department, and with other ministry organizations that can help them. I also arranged meetings with Senate offices on Capitol Hill.

On September 25th the Kurds held an “independence vote.” The Kurdish voters overwhelmingly voted to create an independent state. The reaction of the Iraqi government was to close the borders of Kurdistan and shut down airline operations into the Kurdish region including the Erbil airport.

Bottom line: The airline tickets they  have to return to Erbil cannot be used to fly to Erbil.

They can, at a cost, change the tickets to fly into Baghdad but then would have to make a very perilous journey of 400 kilometers from Baghdad to Erbil by ground transportation. Currently the routes go through areas that are not totally safe from Jihadists and bandits.

Please pray for Christian workers in Kurdistan and all the areas of Iraq. They work hard to minister to the persecuted Christians of the Nineveh Plain.

How will our Christmas program be affected?:  This will be the sixth year of RFC’s Christmas program. This year we will be our sixth year in Jordan, our fifth year in Lebanon and our third year in Iraq. Each year I have been at each location to oversee the program.

As of now I have no way to get into Iraq for Christmas.  Until now, I could fly directly into the Kurdish region without an Iraqi visa. Now, because there are no direct flights to Erbil, I would have to fly to Baghdad first, which would require an Iraqi visa. The Iraqi government is NOT issuing visas to those who state their destination is in Kurdistan.

[su_button url=”http://christmasforrefugees.org/donate/”]Please help a Christian refugee child have a real Christmas[/su_button]

Worse, the Kurdish and Iraqi armies that together were fighting the Islamic State are now squared off against each other in the oil rich Kirkuk Governorate. The Iraqi Army has already pushed the Kurds out of the city of Kirkuk proper. Please pray that this situation with the Kurds and Iraqis is resolved without a full-scale war in which the Christians will suffer the most.

As of today, we are still able to get supplies into Iraq from Turkey, but we do not know how long that will last. I have sent some funds to our partners in Iraq to purchase in advance some items needed for the Christmas program. We can probably obtain everything needed in the next few weeks except the food for the meals at the Christmas events for the children.

Please pray for the Christians of the Nineveh Plain, particularly the children who have suffered so much already.

Report from Iraq: Diaper Distribution

By William J. Murray

Jihadists threaten compound: The first June distribution for Diapers for Refugees was scheduled for June 16th and I was there at 9:00 AM despite not arriving from Amman, Jordan until 3:30 AM that same day. I was greeted with a threat.

The Arabic says: “Christians and Christ men must be cut.” The term “Christ men” refers to preachers and priests, and the word used for “cut” clearly means beheading.

The first distribution was set at the Ozal compound that from the outside looks like a nice suburban neighborhood of attached homes, similar to what we call townhomes. But it is far from normal, as up to five Christian families live in each house. It was in this compound that one of our first Christmas for Refugees events was held in Iraq three years ago.

As our trucks entered the camp I noticed spray painted graffiti on the external wall. The Arabic was clear. It said: “Christians and Christ men must be cut.” The term “Christ men” refers to preachers and priests, and the word used for “cut” clearly means beheading. That was the greeting I received on my first full day back in Iraq to take aid to the persecuted Christians there.

The outward appearance of the area is one of serenity, although I doubt that inside the homes there is much serenity, with several families living in each house and using the same kitchen and bathroom.  All construction stopped on these homes when the ISIS army got to within 25 miles of Erbil, and some churches have been able to rent them for the refugees’ use.

Chairman William Murray passing out diapers.

There are many volunteers for the Diapers for Refugees program. Many of the men who escaped with their families from the Nineveh Plain and Mosul have no work, and they do what they can to help. There is no shortage of labor to unload trucks or set up areas for distribution. On some occasions, husbands or grandmothers pick up the diapers for busy mothers.

Over the past year sanitary pads for the mothers and adult diapers for special needs elderly have been added to the program. The women are particularly thankful for the sanitary pads which are costly when not bought wholesale.

While the need for the adult diapers is not acute, there are some in the camps that do require them. Many times, elderly women are too embarrassed to request these and a daughter or son will bring her ID to the distribution to obtain them.

We purchase 160,000 diapers every three months from a supplier in Dohuk, Iraq which is about a two-hour drive from Erbil. Dohuk is a major city with a metropolitan population of well over one million and it is a distribution hub for goods manufactured in Europe and Turkey. The diapers we purchase are of a high quality and are made in Turkey.

The entire three-month supply is not delivered to a family at one time for several reasons including the ability to carry them home, and the fact that the children grow and needs can change from month to month. The diapers are kept in a dedicated sea-going container that has been converted for warehouse use.

Our program shares a warehouse area that is literally made up of containers stacked up on each other. Fortunately, our container is on the bottom and easy to load and unload. The diapers are all stacked by size in the container leaving a walkway to unload the appropriate sizes for each distribution. Distributions are done monthly at several different camps.

My Observations of the June Diaper Distribution in Iraq

By: William J. Murray

Distribution at four camps in June: During my inspection trip to Iraq, diaper distribution occurred at four locations. The camps served were:

Ozal Compound          Nineveh Plain Christians        Diapers / Sanitary pads / Baby food
Kanjan Compound      Nineveh Plain Christians        Diapers / Sanitary pads / Adult Diapers
Ashti2 Camp               Nineveh Plain Christians        Diapers / Sanitary pads / Adult Diapers
Rock Compound         Nineveh Plain Christians        Diapers / Sanitary pads / Adult Diapers

Several videos of the distribution are posted at our website and our Facebook page for Diapers for Refugees.

Chairman William Murray traveled to Iraq to help with the diaper deliveries and distributions in June.

Americans expect to see photos of people sitting in the dirt outside of a tent. Iraq is NOT a third world nation. Before the 2003 war it was a nation of divided highways and modern cities. Much of that was destroyed in the war — and then in the near civil war of 2006 after an initial pull-out of US troops. Things got better after President Bush did a “surge” of troops, but then came the Islamic State rampage in 2014. The goal of the Islamic State of course was to take Iraq and Syria back to the 6th century with “pure” Islam. The only “modern” things Jihadists are interested in are weapons of war.Of all the camps, the Ozal compound is one of the more unique. This is the compound where threats had been written against Christians on the wall at the entrance. Inside, the compound looks like a middle class residential area as I mentioned above. There are children on bikes and a few cars parked on the street. During the day when temperatures are well over 100 degrees there are few people on the streets.

The churches and Christian missions have done their best to normalize life for the many thousands of Christians displaced from their homes. That is what the diaper program is about – normalizing life for Christians as Iraq is rebuilding, even in a time of continuing war. Sadly, Christians are being left out of the rebuilding process.

The largest diaper distribution was at the Ashti2 camp in Ankawa, because it is the most concentrated. The compound is made up of hundreds of caravans that are 12 x 22 feet. The inside of each caravan contains just 264 square feet, divided into two spaces. One is a bedroom/living room for the entire family. About a fourth of the area is a small toilet and kitchen area with a partition. Up to eight family members live in one of these caravans, but the average family size is five.

An untrained eye looking at the caravans would think that they are air conditioned, but that is not the case. To cool the individual units, a sort of vaporizer is used. A hose from a water supply feeds cool water into the unit and then air is blown across or through it into the caravan. It is primitive, but compound generators would never be able to supply hundreds of air conditioning units

On days of extreme heat, I have seen men bringing a block of ice to their caravan. The ice is then placed in front of a small fan in an attempt to cool the caravan for their families.

One of many young women who received a very welcomed supply of diapers.

At the Ashti2 compound we delivered diapers to 330 families. Hundreds more families  live there, but they do not have diaper age children.

The families in the compounds are desperate since most of the men are unemployed, and some will sell whatever they can get their hands on at the street stands. The diapers would bring needed cash to families if sold on the black market. For that reason, extreme care is taken to make sure that the families needing diapers receive them. We do not back up our truck and start handing out diapers to anyone that shows up.

A list is prepared in advance of families needing diapers,  from information obtained from the camp administrator. All   family members who come on site to pick up the diapers must show their ID as well as the child’s ID.

This is the same procedure used by all NGO’s to make sure that desperate people do not take what is being passed out — and then get back into the line again. It also stops panic among the families who may fear that the supply of whatever is being distributed may run out.  A compound or camp such as Ashti2 is always in a process of change. Some men manage to find jobs and move their family out, sometimes to another city. But new families from West Mosul that had been held captive by the Islamic State are just now arriving. And some women are wearing black from head to toe because their husbands who were fighting in the Iraqi Army have been lost.

The Rock Compound: The Rock is actually neither a compound nor a camp. It is three stories of an office and shopping complex in downtown Erbil near the Citadel. This building complex, which covers two city blocks, is owned by a Christian businessman. There are several hundred families living in partitioned off spaces, again about the size of a caravan. Diapers were distributed to 90 families at this location.  Parking and unloading is a huge issue. Although we prepositioned the diapers the night before, it took us nearly 45 minutes to find parking and make it up to the location.

In Ankawa, which is a Christian town adjacent to Erbil, the women and teenage girls can safely go out by themselves. However, in downtown Erbil, no Christian woman can go onto the street by herself unless she compromises her faith and wears a hijab. The Kurds are Sunni Muslims, and right now the Trump Administration and the media pump them up as true heroes and our great paid warriors against Islamic State. They are Sunni Muslims — not as radical perhaps as the Islamic State, but still, Christian restaurants were forced to pay a fee to stay open during the time of Ramadan when I was there in June.

In order to receive diapers, proper identification must be shown.

The Qaraqosh Distribution: The last time I was in the Christian town of Qaraqosh, Iraq in late 2016, there were no families  living there as yet. By May, we had word that 345 families had moved there. By the time I arrived in Iraq the number had changed to 200. The living conditions are horrid, even though running water has been reestablished. Can you image living in a home with broken out windows in a neighborhood destroyed by war — with no neighbors for perhaps a block or more?

In Qaraqosh, diapers were delivered to those families who needed them. In addition, all of the 200 families were given two large heavy plastic bags each – one filled with food items and one with hygiene items. All items are top quality and known brands. Separately, a 4.5 kilo (9.9 pounds) bag of rice was also distributed. The bags of food contained staple items such as beans, sugar, salt, baking mix, coffee and cooking oil. The hygiene package contained detergent, soaps, shampoos,  tooth paste and brushes, as well as razors for the men and sanitary pads for the women. Multiply what you see by 200 … plus the diapers, and we needed two trucks.

Diaper deliveries to various camps and compounds are monthly. The diapers are purchased in bulk every three months. In all, 640,000 diapers per year are distributed.

June Delivery is Underway

This month, Chairman William J. Murray traveled to Iraq to oversee the second diaper delivery of the year. This month, 160,000 diapers will be delivered to Christian refugee camps across Iraq along with adult diapers, feminine hygiene pads and other basic food or hygiene staples. 

In order for a family to receive diapers, they must present a government-issued identification card that has the child’s name, picture and birth date on it. Each child and family is put on file for the next delivery. This helps keep the distributions running smoothly and efficiently. 

To find out how you can help these families, click here. Scroll through pictures of our first delivery below!

WE WON – HR-390 has passed in the HOUSE

Your post cards and calls to Congress did the job! HR-390, the Iraq and Syria Genocide Emergency Relief and Accountability Act, was introduced by our friend Congressman Chris Smith on January 10th of this year, shortly after the 115th Congress began its first session. Within a few weeks the Religious Freedom Coalition began to mail tens of thousands of letters in support of HR-390 to Americans across the country.  Each letter contained personalized post card petitions for these Americans to mail to their congressmen and Senators.

Since the first mailing in January, the RFC has mailed hundreds of thousands more letters containing post card petitions to build pressure on Congress. But by May there was still no movement on HR-390; it was being ignored by the Leadership of the House.

It was then that I began to publish the phone number of the House Majority Leader, Kevin McCarthy, and ask supporters of HR-390 to call his office to demand a vote on the bill.

Then on Tuesday, June 6th, I went on USA Radio news, which is heard on more than 500 stations in the United States, to explain the need for HR-390 and ask those listening to call Majority Leader McCarthy’s office, and I gave out his phone number right there on the air.

That very night the House Leadership moved the bill to the floor and passed it with an overwhelming vote!

The bill was placed on the floor for a vote under “rules of suspension.” A motion to suspend the rules can only be called on Mondays and Tuesdays and only be made by the Speaker of the House or their designee, which is usually the Majority Leader. Once the motion to “suspend the rules” is made, debate is limited to 40 minutes, no amendments can be made, and a two-thirds majority of Members present and voting is required to pass the motion.

To my dismay there was no roll call! The chair called for a voice vote and then declared that he had heard two-thirds say “yea”. There were no objections from any member, and HR-390 was on its way to the Senate.

But there is still work to do! Unfortunately, as of right now there is no Senate version of The Iraq and Syria Genocide Emergency Relief and Accountability Act.  In order to take advantage of this momentum, it is urgent you call your Senators at once, insisting they introduce and pass a Senate version of HR-390 right away!

Call (202) 224-3121 and ask the Congressional Switchboard Operator to forward to your Senators’ offices. Explain to the staff member in your Senator’s office why HR-390 is so important:

First, HR-390 will give assistance for victims of genocide 

The bill directs the Administration to provide assistance to genocide survivors from Iraqi and Syrian religious and ethnic minority communities. Currently U.S. funds for aid to Iraq and Syria are given through the United Nations and the Iraqi government. Most Christians are not receiving this aid because they are not in the U.N. camps, where they are targeted for violence by Sunni Muslim gangs who control the camps. Christians often do not receive any “official” aid. H.R. 390 will fix that.

Second, HR-390 demands accountability for the perpetrators of genocide

HR-390 directs the Administrion to provide funding and support for entities that are conducting criminal investigations, building Syrian and Iraqi investigative and judicial capacity, collecting evidence, and preserving the chain of evidence for eventual prosecution. HR-390 also directs the Administration to review U.S. criminal codes to allow prosecution of Americans, or non-Americans present here in the United States, who may have been involved in the genocide of Christians or other minorities.  This is important because the Obama Administration allowed tens of thousands of Sunni Muslims to enter the United States from Syria and Iraq without proper vetting.

Third, HR-390 will give the victims of genocide priority refugee status

Right now 98% of the refugees admitted to the United States are Sunni Muslims.  HR-390 would give priority status to Christian refugees who are the actual

Front Line: Inside Iraqi Soldiers’ Anti-IS War

The walkie-talkie in the commander’s hand buzzes and crackles as soldiers line up their humvees and tanks, readying themselves to enter Islamic State territory. “Tell all the men to put on helmets,” are the orders over the walkie-talkie. “I don’t want to see anyone without a helmet!” A few minutes later, many of the soldiers still…READ MORE

Diapers for Refugees Program Expands in Small But Important Way

March diaper distribution marks start of year two: In March more than $18,000 was transferred to our ministry partner in Iraq to begin year two of the Diapers for Refugees program. The first distribution of 160,000 diapers was conducted last year in March. The cost has remained stable over the last year and our cost for absorbent, high quality diapers made in Turkey is still right at 11 cents each. The same quality diaper purchased in the United States would cost more, and there would be the added shipping costs to Iraq.

The camps having caravans are the best equipped. Each family in Ashti 2 lives in a small caravan shaped like a boxcar except smaller, and sitting on cinder blocks.  A standard size mobile home in the United States is 90 feet long and 16 feet wide and 76 feet long. By contrast the largest caravans in the camps fortunate enough to have them are 21 feet long and 9 ft wide, or about 189 sq. ft. for an average family of four. That is not very much space and few families are fortunate enough to have that much.The program services about 300 displaced Christian families who live in official refugee camps such as Ashti 2. The distribution process is extremely orderly. Our ministry partner keeps a record of each family with infants registered at the camp by name, caravan number, number of children, home town, and previous number of diapers received.

As a result, there are cramped conditions in the camps which are extremely densely populated, and therefore the distributions must be done in an orderly way. It is very important that only the families in need of the diapers receive them.

Filling a real need:  One of the greatest needs for the women and teenage girls is feminine sanitary pads. As part of the Christmas for Refugees program last December, the family of every child who participated received hygiene materials. In these large, sturdy plastic bags filled with soaps, shampoos, disinfectants, laundry soaps and other supplies, there were feminine sanitary pads. Some of the women visibly cried when they saw what they were getting.

Our Iraqi partner requested funds for a three-month supply for 5,000 displaced Christian women located in several camps. This would have required 15,000 packets at a cost of about $1.00 per packet or $15,000. We just do not have the budget for that need at the current time. As a result, we sent the funds for feminine sanitary pads only to the mothers in the 300 families we are currently supplying with baby diapers.

Most ministries and aid organization focus on food, clothing, housing and items for survival but not those things that make survival under these conditions bearable.  The hygiene items also help to prevent outbreaks of disease in the densely crowded refugee camps.

Diaper distributions are scheduled for June, September and December. It is my sincere prayer that the funds for the entire year can be raised and set aside in the next thirty days. Having the funds for the year would allow us to once again concentrate on the Christmas program.

Please continue to pray with me for the Lord to guide us in the best use of our means to help the persecuted Christians of the Middle East.

Christians Celebrate Palm Sunday in Qaraqosh

Hundreds of Christians came together in Qaraqosh, Iraq to celebrate Palm Sunday for the first time in three years. They worshiped in a church that had been torched by Islamic State militants.

In October, Iraqi forces and the Christian militia pushed Islamic State militants out of Qaraqosh as part of a campaign to retake Mosul and the Nineveh Plain from the terror organization.

[su_button url=”https://diapersforrefugees.org/helping-christian-refugees/”]Babies of Iraqi Christian refugees fleeing the Islamic State need diapers. Please help![/su_button]

Reuters reported:

Hundreds arrived in cars from Erbil, the main city in autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan where most Christian had fled when Islamic State gave them an ultimatum to pay special taxes, convert or die.

“We need reconciliation,” Syriac Catholic Archbishop of Mosul Butrus Moshe told worshippers in the Immaculate Conception Church guarded by army jeeps.

Islamic State has targeted minority communities in both Iraq and Syria, setting churches on fire.

Scribbled “Islamic State” slogans could be still seen on the church’s walls while torn-up prayer books littered the floor.

Escorted by soldiers carrying rifles, the congregation then walked through Qaraqosh for Palm Sunday, the start of Holy Week that culminates on Easter Sunday, holding up a banner saying “In times of war we bring peace.”

The number of Christians in Iraq drastically decreased after the US invasion of Iraq and overthrow of Saddam Hussein in 2003.

ISIS Militants Disguised as Iraqi Police Slaughter 31 People

Islamic State militants posed as Iraqi police officers, slaughtering 31 people and wounded 40 in an attack in Tikrit in northern Iraq.

According to Ireland’s Independent.ie, the militants first targeted a police checkpoint and then the house of a police colonel who was the head of the counter-terrorism services. They later turned their fire on civilians in nearby shops.

When they ran out of ammunition, two of the Islamic State jihadists detonated suicide vests.

Reports state that the 10 jihadists gained entrance to the city by disguising themselves as Iraqi police officers and driving a police vehicle. It is believed that five of the militants survived and are in hiding.

Fourteen of the people killed in the attack were policemen, including the colonel who was killed with four other members of his family.

 

Congressman Chris Smith Bill On Genocide Advances From Committee

By: Frank York

The bipartisan Iraq and Syria Genocide Emergency Relief and Accountability Act (H.R. 390), authored by Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04), unanimously passed in the House Foreign Affairs Committee. This legislation will help those who have suffered at the hands of ISIS—and hold perpetrators of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes to account.

“ISIS has committed genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes against Christians, Yezidis and other religious and ethnic minority communities in Iraq and Syria,” said Smith, who introduced similar legislation last Congress. “Many of them are now internally displaced or refugees and desperately need aid. Unless at least some humanitarian, stabilization and recovery assistance is intentionally directed to the survivors, many are them at risk of being forced to leave their ancient homelands forever. Some may even put their lives in the hands of human smugglers and attempt the deadly Mediterranean journey to Europe.”

[su_button url=”http:/refugeediaperhelp.org/”]Babies of Iraqi Christian refugees fleeing the Islamic State need diapers.[/su_button]

Since 2013, Smith has chaired nine Congressional hearings on atrocities in Iraq and Syria, including one entitled The ISIS Genocide Declaration: What Next? and another entitled Fulfilling the Humanitarian Imperative: Assisting Victims of ISIS Violence. Last December, Smith traveled to Erbil in the Kurdistan region of Iraq to witness first-hand the plight of genocide survivors and see the humanitarian assistance the Chaldean Catholic Archdiocese of Erbil is providing with support from organizations like the Knights of Columbus to more than 70,000 Christians—1/3 of Christians remaining in Iraq—who escaped ISIS.

H.R. 390, co-sponsored by Rep. Anna Eshoo (CA-18) along with 34 other Members, includes key provisions directing the U.S. Administration to:

  • Support entities that are effectively serving genocide survivors in-country, including faith-based entities;
  • Assess and address the humanitarian vulnerabilities, needs, and triggers that might force survivors to flee their homes;
  • Identify warning signs of deadly violence against genocide survivors and other vulnerable religious and ethnic communities in Iraq or Syria;
  • Support entities that are conducting criminal investigation into perpetrators of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes in Iraq;
  • Recommend where to close gaps in U.S. law so that the American justice system can prosecute foreign perpetrators present in the U.S., as well as any Americans who commit such crimes;
  • Encourage foreign countries to add identifying information about suspected perpetrators  of such atrocity crimes in their security databases and security screening;

“Christians have lived in Iraq since the 1st century and only 250,000 remain, down from 500,000 in 2013, the year before ISIS began its campaign of genocide,” said Smith. “Yezidis have lived in Iraq since the 12th century and their population has dropped 20 to 30 percent from 2013. There are other ancient religious and ethnic minority groups targeted for crimes against humanity and war crimes that likewise need our attention and assistance if they are to survive in their home countries or at least the region. This bill will help ensure that survivors receive our aid and that perpetrators of crimes against them are held accountable.”

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