The Barnabas Fund has reported that almost 300 Christians are being held by Islamic State (IS) fighters in the north-eastern Hassake region of Syria.
In the early hours of 23 February, many Christian villages along the Khabur River were raided. Anyone who did not manage to escape was captured. Over 900 families fled to the cities of Hassake and Qamishli. They are now in desperate need of food, water and shelter.
Most of those abducted were from the village of Tel Shamiram — a total of 156 men, women and children. Local residents have stated that they heard the militants confirming on wireless devices that they had captured ‘crusaders’. This is the term used by IS to describe Christians.
Reports at the time of writing suggest that those taken hostage are still alive. The men have been separated from the women and children. It is believed the men have been taken to the Abdul-Ariz Mountains, an area controlled by IS.
During the raids at least four churches were set on fire. In Tel Tamar a car exploded, and three mortars were set off in Tel Nasri. No casualties were reported.
Local Christian leaders have informed Barnabas Fund that they are expecting the numbers of refugees arriving in Hassake and Qamishli to reach 1200. The villages along the Khabur River are now almost completely empty. Church halls and the homes of relatives are becoming places of refuge.
Mar Afram Athniel, bishop of the Assyrian Church of the East, said, ‘In these difficult times, we appeal to all organisations and the international community to help these innocent people who did not commit any crime. They are helpless’.
There is an urgent need for emergency supplies including bedding, heating, clothing, food and basic hygiene kits for the hundreds of Christian families who have fled their villages. Barnabas has sent an emergency grant of £52,000 to help 1050 families.