Fr Samir spoke to four heads of family who fled in 2014 with the arrival of the Islamic State. From Christian, Yazidi, Sabian and Arab Muslim backgrounds, they recount the Jihadi violence and the difficulties of exile, along with their hopes for the liberation of Mosul. The loving help provided by the Church and the Christian community is an answer to Jihadi violence. Part one.
Erbil (AsiaNews) – Zaenl is a Yazidi from Sinjar, Emad is a Christian from Mosul, Abad is a Sabian from Qaraqosh, and Omar Abu Lukman is an Arab Muslim from Sinjar. Fr Samir Youssef spoke with these four refugee who represent distinct faiths and ethnic groups.
All of them remember pain and suffering from their tragic flight following the advance of the militias of the Islamic State (IS, also known as ISIS) in Mosul and the Nineveh Plain: Christian homes marked by Jihadis, relatives left behind to die, money and property stolen. At the same time, they express a desire to start living again, nurtured by the reasonable hope offered by the Church that has welcomed them "with a lot of love" and "did not deny us anything".
Fr Samir is the pastor in a parish in the diocese of Zakho and Amadiya (Kurdistan), who cares for 3,500 displaced Christian, Muslim, and Yazidi families who fled their homes and land to escape the Jihadis. Ever since the emergency situation developed in the summer of 2014, he has played a leading role. He, Iraq’s bishops, and AsiaNews want to relaunch the "Adopt a Christian from Mosul" campaign for this Christmas to help buy kerosene, shoes, winter clothes, and material for the local school.
Here is the first part of their accounts and stories (scroll down for the videos).
Father Samir: Let's start from the beginning, from the arrival of the Islamic State. Can you tell us how and why you ran away?
Zaenl: At first we sought refuge on Mount Sinjar, where we stayed for a time. Then, on 3 August 2014 we decided to leave, via a very difficult and winding road. My brother, who is disabled, died on the mountain because I could not carry him with me since I already had to carry my elderly mother and children. We were sitting and resting, to catch our breath when IS men suddenly came upon us. For this I had to leave my brother and took my mom while my wife took the children. We later learnt that my brother had died. A few days later we reached Enishke.
Emad: It was 30 June 2014 as Islamic State militiamen entered the city of Mosul. At first they did nothing, but after 20 days they started writing the letter "N" (ن), the first letter of "Nazarene", i.e. Christian, on the walls of our homes, and this forced us to flee. We left with our car and, just before going out of the city, near the Shalalat area, some ISIS militiamen stopped us and made us get out of the car. It was me, my wife and my two daughters. They took the car, our money and gold and left us on the road. They also threatened us, saying that if we did not hand over the money, they would take our daughters. After that, we started to walk, got a taxi that took us to Bashiqa, then Qaraqosh, Duhok, and finally Enishke. We thank (the Church) for giving us a house.
Abas: It was midnight on 6 August 2014 when we fled Qaraqosh, unable to take anything with us. I thought I could come back after a few days, but it was not possible. We arrived near Erbil and there were many people, everybody fleeing IS. After a few hours we were able to go to Erbil, but the situation was very difficult; hotels were full. Eventually we found a hotel, but after a few days, we ran out of money. Later, through a friend who helped us, we managed to arrive here in Enishke. We want to thank you again for welcoming us. The Church and the people of the village made us so feel welcome with a lot of love.
Omar Abu Lukman: we were, my family and I, my married daughters and their husbands, around 18 people. On 8 August 2014 we fled from Sinjar, we did not want to cooperate with them. As we fled, IS militiamen stopped us and took my son and my grandson. A month later we learnt that my grandson had become sick and died; my son, instead, was killed. We were in the desert and spent the first night of escape there. The next day we walked a long way, until we ran into a car. The driver agreed to give us a lift after we paid him a half million dinars (about $ 1,200) to bring us to Badreke, near Duhok. After that, we got here.
Father Samir: How did you spend the past two years and a half and what are the main difficulties? Did the Church accommodate you well?
Zaenl: The Church welcomed us with a lot of love, and did not deny us anything. You, and all the other humanitarian organisations, your friends. After we lost everything, you gave us everything we needed, you gave us hope. We have started to believe that there was hope in life.
Emad: When we arrived we were desperate, but after we met with Father Samir we found a place to sleep, a house. From the first day, the Church gave us to eat, things to wear, making us feel good. I was afraid for my daughters, but you provided us with safety. We really feel peace and love toward us. And you're still helping us.
Abas: I speak not only for myself, but on behalf of all these 400 refugee families who are here, and I speak the truth when I say that the local Church, together with the Christian community of Enishke, has done something memorable, historic. We will never forget all that you have done and are doing for us. Only the Church takes care of us; no one else.
Omar Abu Lukman: For more than two and half years, after much suffering, you have found a place for us. The Islamic state has tried to separate us, but you have united us. You have not shown any preference for Christians, Muslims, or Yazidis. You did not deny us anything. We have felt and experienced brotherhood and love. You made us believe and understand your love. You shared your bread with us. May God reward you.
END OF PART ONE