Pastor of Amadiya: Mosul’s Christian refugees, torn between emergency aid and the longing to return home
In a letter Fr. Samir Youssef describes the situation of refugees, exiled from their home for more than two years. They are closely following the offensive to retake Mosul, although their homes and churches "are for the most part" burned or destroyed. With the arrival of winter there is a serve lack of heating oil, clothes, food and money to pay for their children’s school bus. An appeal to continue to support the AsiaNews campaign.
Amadiya (AsiaNews) –"An atmosphere of expectation" permeates Mosul’s refugees as they wait to see how the battle against the Islamic State (IS) will end. Iraqi troops "are advancing" and the plain "is almost entirely liberated," although "the churches are largely burned" and "many houses destroyed."
This is what Fr. Samir Youssef, pastor of the diocese of Amadiya (Kurdistan), writes in a letter sent to AsiaNews. His parish hosts 3,500 displaced families Christians, Muslims, Yazidis who fled their homes and their lands to escape the jihadists. The priest has been on the frontline in helping these people since the summer of 2014, when the emergency began. With this letter we want to relaunch the campaign "Adopt a Christian from Mosul" as we approach Christmas.
"Just as with the earthquake’s in Italy" says the priest, "we too will need to rebuild and put everything back in place." Since the offensive was launched on 17 October by the army and Kurdish Peshmerga a new front has opened up in the emergency: that of people fleeing from the areas liberated from the jihadist presence, with "very touching stories, that bring people to tears, about how the civilian population was treated, especially women".
Speaking of refugees, Fr. Samir says that "without the help of AsiaNews and other friends, the situation could become very difficult indeed." The local Church responds almost entirely to the needs not only of Christians, but also of the Yazidi and Muslim refugees. Women and children are forced to wear "the only clothes they have" which are from "last year." And then there is the cost of tickets and passes to ensure the transportation of children to school. Finally, oil for heating. Many needs which the priest is struggling to meet so these people can cope "until this crisis is over”. Your help in the campaign "Adopt a Christian from Mosul" is more essential than ever to ensure the survival of refugees. Here, the words of Fr. Samir:
Dear Fr. Bernardo Cervellera, dear readers of AsiaNews,
First of all, I pray to the Lord that you are well. I wanted to write you to for some time to express my sympathy for the pain caused by the recent earthquakes [in central Italy] we followed the news reports closely even here [Iraqi Kurdistan], and they shocked us. We were really very concerned.
Thank God the second, devastating quake caused no casualties although many homes have collapsed and the Basilica of St. Benedict in Norcia. However, we are confident that everything will be rebuilt: the Italian people are strong and love life, and comes together in times of crisis.
For our part, we are living in great expectation, waiting to discover how the battles against the Islamic State (IS) will end. The Iraqi troops are advancing and are now close to the city of Mosul. The Nineveh Plain is almost entirely liberated, but unfortunately the churches are largely burned and many houses were destroyed.
Even here, as for you with the earthquake, it will take a lot of work to rebuild and replace everything. The IS militiamen built many tunnels under the houses. Very upsetting stories emerge from the people from areas liberated from the jihadists near Mosul, it would make you cry to hear how the civilian population was treated, especially women.
How so many people were killed, decapitated. How in every neighborhood a house was converted by the militiamen into a prison where the women were sex slaves of the militiamen. Several mass graves have been discovered, and in one of these the bodies of about 200 people were found. Among them were women and children. Only the Lord knows what else the Daesh jihadists did [Arabic acronym for the IS] in the city of Mosul.
As for our refugees, I have to admit that without the help of AsiaNews and other friends, the situation is likely to become very difficult indeed. Christian families and Yazidis who are among us depend almost exclusively on the help of the local Church. We have many children in our care, and we have to send them to school. As happened in the previous year there are buses that take them to school, and we, as a Church, pay the cost of tickets and passes. All this, however, is dependent on the arrival of aid.
Here, in Iraqi Kurdistan, the winter has already begun and many children and many women use the same, clothing as last year, the only clothes they have. Two weeks ago we bought some second hand clothes, but not enough for everyone and even the shoes are lacking. And then the kerosene for heating, essential to combat the cold that no humanitarian organization or government has yet offered. And the urgency is beginning to be felt.
Lately the government has forced many NGOs to help people fleeing Mosul because of the war. Recently opened three new camps for Muslim refugees who fled in recent weeks. For more than three months 225 Yazidi families living here in Enishke did not receive food stamps or food supplies.
We try every week to buy quantities of rice, oil, and distribute them. Without speaking of the families who, each month, need cash; my parish also pays rents of many houses that have been home to refugee families for over two years. Here every pastor has assumed this responsibility and we try as much as possible to help these people until this crisis is over.
Dear father, dear readers of AsiaNews, I put all of these needs in your hands. I pray the Lord may help us and to help all of you to move forward, with everything going on around you. As soon as I can, hopefully in February, I will come to you in Italy.
Fr. Samir Youssef