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Plight of refugees inspires aid effort

24 October 2014


Ready to go: Samara Levy (foreground, right) with the shipment

Ready to go: Samara Levy (foreground, right) with the shipment

HEAVY fighting between Islamic State (IS) militants and Kurdish forces continues in the Syrian border town Kobane. Those who have fled from the jihadists are preparing for an uncertain winter.

IS terrorists now control large swaths of land in northern Syria and northern Iraq, and have displaced thousands, but are under attack by Kurdish peshmerga soldiers, backed by airstrikes from the United States and Britain, among others.

The RAF has flown 37 missions and launched ten successful strikes against IS, the defence secretary, Michael Fallon, told MPs on Monday. The US has been more heavily involved, and has dropped weapons and ammunition to support those fighting IS on the ground.

Refugees who fled the initial surprise offensive by IS earlier this year are in many cases still unable to return to their homes. The Washington Post has reported that Iraqi Christians who fled the town of Mosul when it fell to IS in June do not intend to return, believing that there is no future for them even if IS is defeated.

The charity Aid to the Church in Need said that as many as 70,000 Christians were sheltering in the Iraqi Kurdish capital of Irbil. The Chaldean Catholic Church in Iraq has estimated that 120,000 Christians have been displaced by the recent violence.

There are fears that some refugees may die during the cold winters in northern Iraq, if they are forced to stay in tents and other temporary accommodation. The aid agency Samaritan's Purse has shipped 80 tons of supplies, including winter clothes and heavy-duty plastic sheeting, to Iraqi refugees.

The charity's president, Franklin Graham, said: "Many of the refugees, when they fled, were only able to leave with the clothes on their back, and they are not prepared for this winter. So we're doing what we can."

A woman from Brighton, Samara Levy, has arranged her own aid shipment of clothes for refugees. Ms Levy said that she had been inspired to donate clothes but all the charities she contacted said that it would be too expensive and difficult to transport them from the UK to Iraq.

Ms Levy said: "I saw these reports about the refugees in northern Syria - how they had this massive dump of snow on the camps but children were still wearing flip-flops. My children were one and four and I found it heart-breaking that these families were trying to survive in these conditions. I had been sav- ing baby clothes for my sister but those people need it more than she does."

After hitting a brick wall with various aid agencies, however, she tried to forget about her idea. "I prayed about it and I just wanted to try and find a way. I asked God to show me a way to make it happen."

Despite having no means of transporting any clothes, Ms Levy began imploring her friends and family to donate, and joined forces with her children's school, and churches. Eventually, Mission and Relief Logistics, a specialist shipping agency for relief work, came aboard with a lorry and driver to take the clothes to a humanitarian charity in northern Iraq.

"In the end we had so much donated we couldn't send everything and filled the lorry," Ms Levy said. "We were able to pick out the very best things."

The lorry filled with about 80 cubic metres of clothes left Brighton last week and is expected to arrive in the Dohuk area of Iraq by next week. The Christian Aid Programme in Northern Iraq (CAPNI) will receive the shipment and distribute the clothes to refugees there, who are mostly Christians or members of the Yazidi sect.

Ms Levy said that 673 schools in the region had been filled with displaced families, and that the UN was starting to build as many as 14 camps to hold them.

"We are asked all the time for money, but actually to be able to give something of yours is very personal and I think people really like to get involved in this way. It's been a really inspiring project."

Ms Levy said that she would be interested in partnering with other churches to attempt to collect more clothes to be sent to the region.


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