Serving Migrants and Refugees

Serving Migrants and Refugees

tian parishes of Istanbul cooperate in helping the many refugees and migrants stranded in the mega-city of Istanbul. Their assistance focuses on a particularly vulnerable group: women with children.

As I looked around the meeting table, I saw that we were an unusual group. In terms of religious background we were

Roman Catholic
Greek Orthodox
Syrian Orthodox
Armenian Orthodox

In terms of nationalities we were

New Zealander

We were all gathered for one purpose: to serve the needs of the poorest and most marginalized people stranded in Istanbul, people striving to get to somewhere where their lives could be better. We coordinate various programs of assistance to refugees and migrants, people in Turkey without documents and living on the edge. We represent the various parishes and groups of Istanbul who unite in this critical service to those in need of food, clothing, and hope.

There may be one hundred thousand such persons in Turkey. Most of them are called transient migrants and refugees–people looking to move on to find work in the wealthy countries of Europe. In Turkey they can’t work, use the medical services, or send their children to school, because they are undocumented. They are simply part of millions of people on the move around the globe, knowledgeable in this information age about where wealth is concentrated, and spurred on by the yawning global chasm between rich and poor, between safety and menace. We receive many clients from countries suffering from war and anarchy, such as the Sudan, Somalia, and Sri Lanka.

The churches of Istanbul can help but a few in these rivers of humanity. We focus on women with children, who are among the most vulnerable. We see that they get some food, clothing, medical advice and assistance, and help with their search for documents and recognition and hope for improvement.

Our program participated this Spring in organizing and sponsoring a party at Easter time for the children of refugees and migrants, and for Armenian students without parents. It was a grand event with 300 children, clowns, balloons, Easter eggs, games, singing, and dancing. Our photo is from that colorful event.

The Turkish government in recent years has taken action to assist these many migrants and refugees within its borders. To its credit, the Turkish government does not throw them out, turn them away, or simply let them beg on the streets but wants them to register and be cared for in various cities around the country. This system is new and falls short of what is required as much as it helps. We counsel the undocumented persons as they seek to be recognized as refugees by the United Nations, a procedure that takes at least two years.

Our interparish program is amazing for its unity of purpose in this area. That we of such different backgrounds can unify in this service to others witnesses to what God asks of us.

Ken & Betty Frank

Ken & Betty Frank serve with the American Board in Istanbul, Turkey.  They share the job of General Secretary of the American Board.  They also serve on the board of the Istanbul Interparish Migrant Program (IIMP).