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Syria refugees surpass 700,000; deaths, 60,000

NASHVILLE (BP) — Refugees keep streaming from Syria as a cycle of violence and revenge threatens to destroy their homeland, and even the United Nations cannot keep up with the “unrelenting flow,” a Southern Baptist humanitarian leader said.

Jeff Palmer, executive director of Baptist Global Response, said the number of refugees has topped 700,000 and the death toll has surpassed 60,000 in the 22-month conflict. Families who thought they would be able to outlast the fighting are giving up and fleeing the country as reports of atrocities — like the recent discovery of another mass grave in Aleppo — continue to mount.

The fragmentation of regime and opposition forces has thrown the entire situation into doubt, Palmer told Mission Network News, an evangelical news service based in Grand Rapids, Mich.

“I wish I could point out who’s the bad guy, who’s the good guy, but that’s the problem. That’s why a lot of people are fleeing. Nobody knows who’s who,” Palmer said. “It’s just literally chaos — fear for safety, fear for their children, fear for their families and future.

“A lot of time it’s women and children coming out, but more and more, it’s the men, too, because they’ve got to protect their families,” Palmer said.

“Food is scarce. Children can’t go to school. Families can’t live, fearing for their lives,” Palmer told MNN. “So now we have more people flooding outside of the country; we have more internally displaced people inside the country; and it’s just chaos.”

As the number of refugees and internally displaced persons heads toward 1.5 million, humanitarian agencies are finding their resources stretched past the breaking point, according to news reports. The flood of refugees keeps coming, and relief groups are unable to provide the supplies that will be needed to survive the harsh winter conditions ahead. Syrian refugees in northern Jordan recently fought over tents being distributed by one charity, and riot police had to intervene to quell the violence.

While the work of Baptist Global Response is dwarfed by that of the international relief groups, Southern Baptists are helping people who would not receive help any other way — although those refugees are very hard to find.

“We’ve got about four places that we’re actually touching and helping ministry partners that are able to respond. That’s in several countries,” Palmer told MNN. “[The refugees are] setting up shop. They’re putting up makeshift tents. They’re living in garages of people’s homes. They’re finding empty storerooms and finding places to set up for their families.”

Because refugees who fled their homes in summer are ill-prepared for winter, BGR’s most recent relief effort focused on cold-weather supplies: clothing, carpets and blankets. About 2,500 people benefited from the assistance, which was provided with Southern Baptist relief funds.

Amid the upheaval, God is moving in remarkable ways among the refugees, Palmer told MNN.

“Most of the work we do goes through local partners who are of the same language and culture [as the refugees], but they’re followers of Christ. They become the hands and feet [of Christ],” Palmer said. “That is a demonstration of the Gospel: to show the hope of Christ by having compassion, providing blankets, warm clothing, food and health care kits.”
Compiled by Mark Kelly of Baptist Global Response, an international relief organization on the Internet at www.gobgr.org.

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