Relief Workers Hope to Gain Access to Northern Iraq

Mar 22, 2003 02:43 PM EST

AMMAN, Jordan – Humanitarian and relief groups stationed on Jordan’s side of the border hope to gain permission to work in Iraq. Their goal is to feed 10,000 or more refugees a day if they can get access to northern Iraq where the Kurds are suffering from increased hunger.

"We understand that in the Kurdish north is where malnutrition is the biggest, so we're trying to find ways to get in there as quickly as possible," said a relief worker in Amman, Jordan's capital. "We would like to have disaster relief teams come in and work in the north. [The situation] is all so dynamic -- nothing has gone quite the way anyone expected so far. But we'd like to be able to do feeding for at least 10,000 people a day if we can get there."

Christian Humanitarian workers say the refugees arriving at the Jordan border are “afraid and tired” after the long drive from Baghdad; the main gas station and rest stop on the road had been bombed in the early hours of the war.

"It's about a 10-hour ride if you're traveling really fast. A normal ride could be up to 12 hours. Without that refueling stop, it's made things a lot tougher," the worker reported. Once refugees reach the camps, "it's been windy, rainy and cold -- and tents are very hard to do much with. The wind has got a lot of sand in it. The situation is just tough for folks who are coming out."

Since the onslaught of the war, the workers have been distributing thousands of diapers, baby formula, blankets and other supplies in border camps. They have also provided food and attended to medical needs.

"Jordan right now is not allowing Iraqis to cross the border," the worker said. "They're only allowing third-country nationals like Egyptians or Sudanese to come into Jordan. There are camps on the other side of the border and we're working one step at a time to get into those. We don't know how many people are in those camps."

The workers anticipate a great influx of refugees; more than 1 million refugees fled into Jordan before and during the Person Gulf War, overwhelming the tiny nation’s resources.

"The whole refugee situation will hinge on how Baghdad goes, because you're talking about 5 million people there," the worker said. "I think the whole mood of the region will swing on what happens and the way the Iraqi people respond."

Southern Baptist workers on the scene are asking for medical workers and other types of volunteers to join them and their Jordanian partners.

"We're going to be compassionate through touching their human needs and compassionate through prayer," the worker said. "By touching their need and by prayer, we're praying that God will change the situation.

"As Jesus says in Matthew 25, 'When I was in prison you visited me.' Many of these people have been in a dire situation not unlike prison. So we want to visit them and share with them a cup of cold water in compassion that is motivated and empowered by prayer. We're asking God to show us the doors that he has already opened up to these people -- whether they're Kurds or Turkmen or Shia or Sunni, all across Iraq -- so they understand that Jesus loves them and has a personal interest in each one of them."

By Pauline J.