Arab-Kurdish and Sunnis-Shia clashes hinder the return of refugees. High danger of new violence, families spend the night in their cars and the children are traumatized. Fr Samir: serious economic problems, lack of food and heating oil, while governments and NGOs have suspended aid. We need a "miracle".
Erbil (AsiaNews) - The situation of Christians "is worse than the arrival of ISIS" because they are "caught up in this clash between Arabs and Kurds, Shiites and Sunni," which "hinders" the return of refugees to Mosul and the Nineveh plain, and "there is no longer any help".
Fr. Samir Youssef, pastor of the diocese of Amadiya (Kurdistan), tells AsiaNews that part of the Christian families have "returned to Alqosh and Dohuk" for fear of violence in the Nineveh plain. "They spent two nights in the car, or delayed their departure for the danger of new clashes. There are cases of children traumatized by the violence in Teleskof. "
Fr. Samir, who cares for 3500 families of Christian, Muslims, yazids refugees who fled their homes in the summer of 2014 with the rise of the Islamic State (IS, formerly Isis) reports that "even Christians begin to be afraid ". The fear is of "a Kurdish response" with "new attacks" that will eventually target "both Christians and Yazidis." “We are not for or against any party," the priest adds, "we just want to live in peace with everyone."
Christians have always been a force for dialogue, a bridge between the various cultures and ethnicities that characterize Iraq. And Christian personalities have even held the roles of ministers for Culture or Health in the recent history of the country. Although only 2/3% of the population are Christian, the minority has played an essential role "at a cultural level" but "is increasingly entrenched in conflict".
This turn in events is evidenced by the recent history of Fr. Samir’s own family, which has had to change home, city and region many times to escape violence. "First to Kurdistan - the priest remembers - then the Kurdish Revolution for Independence pushed us to Mosul. With the beginning of the war, we went to Baghdad, to return to Mosul and again to Iraqi Kurdistan, with the arrival of Islamic extremists." "From 2006 to today - he adds - 40 churches have been destroyed between Mosul, Baghdad and Basra; more than 1200 people have been killed merely for being Christian. "
Fr. Samir, among the main advocates of AsiaNews campaign "Adopt a Christian in Mosul," emphasizes that "in Kurdistan Christians had begun to live" and the defeat of Isis had hoped to return to their lands of origin . "Now we are overwhelmed - he confesses - by a state of fear, we live under threat. Facing a new instability, we do not know where to go, what to do ... ".
Meanwhile, Christians - spared the devastating earthquake that struck the region - "have to deal with the increasingly pressing economic issues". "There are no wages - says Fr. Samir - and there are several families of refugees who have no money to buy essential goods. Until recently, mini-markets sold goods for $ 2,000 a day, today they are struggling to get 200. Staff are fired, whole families are out of work and it's getting harder. "
"With the help programs started - the priest says - we try to contribute to the livelihood of families, but we too are struggling to find funds. Now the winter is coming with the cold. Last year, we had already distributed two or three barrels of kerosene, this year still nothing. Even the delivery of food is suspended, we have nothing more. "
From a certain point of view, he admits, "The situation is worse than when Isis arrived, because then governments and NGOs helped us. Closing airports in Kurdistan complicates the situation and only 30% of the refugees have been able to return to their homes. " Wages have also fallen, ranging from a thousand dollars before "to the current 300" because of "the tightening of Baghdad tax on funds destined for the Kurdish region. And then there are rents, school ... “. Fr. Samir concludes: “the Church helps as best it can, but what we really need is a miracle."(DS)