Mosul offensive aggravates the plight of Christian refugees, forgotten by the government and UN
Fr. Samir Youssef speaks of an "emergency within an emergency" that makes the situation even more difficult. Only the Church helps Christians who are preparing to live "their third Christmas as refugees." From the areas liberated by the Caliphate the stories of women raped, children indoctrinated, homes destroyed. And an appeal: Let no one close "the door of mercy."
Amadiya (AsiaNews) - An "emergency with an emergency" that made the already precarious conditions of Christians in Mosul and the Nineveh plain even more difficult, more than two years on from having to abandon their homes to an Islamic State (IS) advance.
The offensive launched on 17 October by the army and Kurdish Peshmerga has generated "a new wave of refugees, at least 200 thousand" according to the latest estimates, which has relegated the fortunes and needs of those preparing to spend Christmas as refugees “for a third year ". This is what Fr. Samir Youssef tells AsiaNews. The pastor of the diocese of Amadiya (in Iraqi Kurdistan), which handles 3,500 displaced families, Christian, Muslim and Yazidi who have abandoned their homes and lands to escape the jihadists.
Fr. Samir is at the forefront beginning of the emergency and is among the beneficiaries of the campaign launched by AsiaNews "Adopt a Christian from Mosul," which continues ahead of Christmas and winter just around the corner.
The first refugees from Mosul and the Nineveh plain, he says, "have been forgotten because of the new emergency" triggered by the offensive against the Caliphate. Children are forced to wear old and worn out shoes, which often are not enough to shelter from the cold and snow. Families cannot afford new blankets, but continue to use those of past years. There is no kerosene, food is scarce and needs are becoming more pressing.
"In our area - says the priest - 80% of aid is from the Church. The government does little or nothing, the United Nations and humanitarian organizations deal only with those people who are in refugee camps ". In Enishke [mountain village between Zakho and Dohuk] there are at least 400 families in need, "but here the UN and the government does not do anything" and it is "only thanks to Caritas and the Church that they have had aid".
Basic necessities, resources stocks "should be distributed to all", adds Fr. Samir, who does not want distinctions "between Christians, Yazidis and Muslims when it comes to charity. I want aid to be given to all in need, without distinction. " Among the priorities, says the priest, is the collection "of money to send 800 children to school. Most of them attend a school 30 minutes away from the village. "
Last year, he recalls Fr. Samir, "we distributed a lot of help, thanks to the many donations we received." But this year "the resources were far inferior - he said - and not enough to meet all of our needs. We live in a state of emergency and need everything from food to fuel, from clothes to money to purchase personal hygiene products".
The fugees from Mosul and the Nineveh plain are "concerned for their future, pending the liberation of all" areas still under the control of the Islamic state. "Christians and Yazidis are heartbroken - said the priest - to see the images coming from their areas, that tell of devastated homes [nearly 80% of the total], stolen property, stolen clothes."
A "systematic destruction" perpetrated by Daesh militiamen with the sole purpose of "preventing the return of refugees to their homes", combined with the massacre of entire families and the enslavement of women, especially among yazide,who have become the sex slaves of the jihadists.
Today the Iraqi troops are not only fighting the IS, but also have to feed a population weary after more than two years under the rule of the "Caliphate". "We are hearing reports – continues Fr. Samir – of kamikaze that mingle with the victims; and again, of the presence in each village of a house where yazide women were detained, abused and sold as the sex slaves of fighters”.
This is combined with the drama of pregnant women: they are mostly members of the minority Yazidi victims of sexual violence. "Many of them - says the priest - are asking to have an abortion. In any case, we now have the future problem of a generation of children who will not even know who their father is, abandoned to their fate. " These are also the consequences of the war and constitute an additional source of conflict and tension in an already high risk context.
Other details emerge from the liberated villages, perhaps less cruel but of strong symbolic meaning: "We are seeing pictures - highlights Fr. Samir - with walls covered with writing, many of them say: 'You love life, we want death'. These are the messages of the jihadists, written just before their retreat and who have now flocked en masse to the area west of Mosul, on the right bank of the Tigris River. The danger is that the city is split in two and, like Aleppo in Syria, is the scene of a conflict that will drag on for the next few years. "
Finally, the priest tells of the many children of Mosul and the territories occupied by the IS who "have suffered brainwashing, grew up with the ideology of death, of war, of violence". Minors where the jihadists "were taught to use weapons and that instead of taking up a book have learned to handle guns”. He warns that recovery programs are needed to rid these children of the "indoctrination now" and a "re-education of the general population."
An example comes from the village of Enishke: a Muslim family was of the Yazidis because it turned out that the head of the family has a brother in Mosul who was a leading member of IS. "People now want to drive them out - says Fr. Samir - and the higher the danger of revenge and retaliation, according to a well-rooted Islam logic of washing blood with blood". It will be difficult, he warns, to change this mindset and give precedence to charity, forgiveness.
A few weeks before Christmas and at the end of the Jubilee Year, Fr. Samir says only mercy can save an Iraq torn by violence and divisions. "We are starting the preparations for the holidays - says Fr. Samir - with prayer meetings, celebrations, seminars. To the Christians of East and West, but especially to those who are in Europe and the United States, tell them not to forget us. As Pope Francis says, mercy should not end but must live on in our love towards each other. No one - he concludes - should close their door to mercy (DS)”.