CNS photo/Omar Sanadiki, Reuters

Iraqi refugees in Jordan say it will be difficult to return home

By  Dale Gavlak, Catholic News Service
  • October 12, 2014

AL-UM-KUNDUN, JORDAN - Iraqi refugees who fled Islamic State violence and theft of their property in Mosul said it will be difficult to ever return home, despite concerns by the Church that more Christians are fleeing their ancient homeland in the Middle East. 

“I thought I was living in a kind of dystopian end-of-times film,” said Jassam, 33, speaking about Mosul when the Islamic State militants invaded. 

“I had lived in Mosul my whole life, and never anywhere else had I experienced the love and kindness I knew there. But what a violent upheaval of fortune befell us after June 10, when the extremists took over,” he told Jordanian Catholic and Muslim officials during a day of solidarity with the Iraqi refugees held outside of the capital, Amman, Oct. 1. 

The refugees asked that they be identified without their full names. 

“It was truly shocking. The militants told us, Christians, to pay the Islamic tax or convert to Islam,” the businessman said, his eyes welling with tears. 

Jassam worked with his father, a respected entrepreneur in the city for the past 30 years, and they owned three shops. After the Islamic State takeover, someone approached Jassam on the street, telling him that he should “pay” to keep his shop. On another occasion, a young man visited Jassam’s home and declared himself to be the new “governor” of the area. The man “announced that the region was part of the Islamic State, including my house and property,” Jassam told Catholic News Service. 

“I said this is enough. This is my family’s property and we worked for it,” he said. “But in the end, we had to flee for our lives.” 

Mosul was the centre of northern Iraq’s Christian heartland, boasting of a Christian community for more than 1,600 years. Islamic State militants burned the city’s ancient Catholic Church to the ground in July. 

Another man, Abu Suleiman, recounted that at first the Islamic State extremists told the Christians they would respect churches and Christian homes, “but that was lies.” 

“We were lucky to leave when we did. We discovered that those who hadn’t left Mosul were told to convert to Islam or be beheaded,” the elderly man said. 

Abu Suleiman said that the moment Islamic State fighters took over Mosul, his Muslim neighbours sided with the extremists and betrayed him, “telling them what property belonged to Christians.” 

“With the Islamic State in Mosul, there is no way we’d ever return there,” he said. “I lost my shop. They put a red letter ‘N’ in Arabic, symbolizing Nasrani or Christian, on my house declaring it their property. I later discovered that a militant from Afghanistan was living in my home.” 

The Iraqi Christians said “crimes against humanity” have been committed against them and Iraq’s other minorities, such as the Yezidis, also targeted by Islamic State militants. They urged the international community to do more to help them and bring restitution to their situation. 

“When I fled Mosul, to the northern city of Irbil, my family was forced to live in the streets. For what reason was this, simply because we are Christians?” Abu Suleiman asked. 

The Iraqi Christians expressed their thanks to Jordan’s King Abdullah II for allowing 1,000 Christians who fled Mosul to find safety for at least one year in Jordan. Caritas, the Catholic Church’s humanitarian aid agency, has helped these and hundreds of thousands of other Iraqi and Syrian refugees sheltering in Jordan. 

Marwan Al Husayni of Jordan’s Royal Institute for Interfaith Studies said his group was also working alongside Catholic institutions to try to help the Iraqi Christians “live in peace in the current stage until their future is determined.” 

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