Local Couple Shares Their Experiences As Humanitarian Workers In Iraq

By Steve Patterson
BRISTOL, Pa., (CBS) — Since the mid-seventies, Debbie and Jim Fine have been traveling to the Middle East on humanitarian missions.
He’s a relief and policy worker. She’s an educator.

“When you say you’re going to Iraq, our relatives were very concerned and very worried,” Jim said. “We’ve only left because it was the end of our term.”

That last term was for the Mennonite Central Committee from 2010 until a few months ago. They served in the small town of Ankawa, an appendage of the Iraqi Kurdish Capitol Erbil.

“The wolf did not come to the door but got very close,” Jim said.

‘The Wolf’ is ISIS. In June, they sacked and occupied the city of Mosul just 50 miles west.

“What we didn’t bargain for was the power of the weapons that ISIS got when Mosul fell,” Jim said. “That is a huge arsenal of the latest American weapons.”

With those weapons, they pushed. Thousands ran scared from the villages in-between, ballooning the populations of Erbil and Ankawa.

“Within 48 hours the population doubled,” Debbie said. “Every church yard, every public park, every square was packed with people.”

Ankawa ballooned to from 30,000 to more than 60,000 people. With Kurdish fighters backing off, refugees flooding in and ISIS advancing… the Fines wanted to stay.

“This is the last time that you want to leave an area like that, that’s when you need more relief work,” Debbie said. “We knew that people would put themselves at risk to protect us.”

The couple lives retired in Bristol. Only back now because their term has ended.

“A close call? No. I do not feel we escaped by the skin of our teeth,” Debbie said. “We did not escape. We would have remained.”