“I want to stay in Iraq, I love it.”
By Maria Lozano, ACN International,
Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada
This morning we [the Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) delegation], left Ankawa and Erbil with their concentration of tens of thousands of refugees, and drove with Archbishop Emil Nona of the Chaldean Archdiocese of Mosul to the area of Dohuk north of Mosul where the refugees are spread out over many villages. He, too, is a refugee, having been absent from Mosul while attending a youth meeting in another Christian village, when the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIS) took over. Like so many of his faithful, he had to leave everything behind.
The usual way to Dohuk is through Mosul, but with ISIS still holding occupation of the city and surrounding areas, we took a more mountainous route passing at times just 20 km from where ISIS is located. Despite this, there were only a few military check-points through which we passed very easily. In the distance we could see the Christian town of Alqosh, which has for the most part been abandoned by its inhabitants in anticipation of ISIS’s arrival.
For my children’s sake
Our first visit of the day was in the village of Mangesh just north of Dohuk. Twenty-five years ago this was an entirely Christian village until Sadam Hussein brought in so many Kurds that the Christians became a minority. Today the Christian families number about 300 and they were joined recently by some 77 Syrian Orthodox families, who fled their village close to the village of Alqosh on August 6.
One of the men from the village had already gone out three days earlier in search of a safe refuge for these families and per chance discovered the village of Mangesh. When they heard bombardments on August 6 – which was their sign to leave – they were very thankful when the parish priest of Mangesh, Fr. Yoshia Sana, offered them the Catholic catechetical centre as a temporary home. When we arrived at the centre their Orthodox priest expressed their gratitude to Msgr. Nona for the kindness and generosity they received. They are still in need of more tents and some ventilators and Msgr. Nona promised to get some for them. As in Erbil, temperatures were soaring to over 43° C and in one case 7 families were sharing one tent. One man told us that he wants this situation to end, “Not for my sake, but for my children’s sake.” One woman with three disabled children was crying and saying she wanted to go back to her village but she was afraid to return.
The generosity of Christian families
During the rest of the day, we visited several more villages with Fr. Yoshia and Fr. Samir Youssef, parish priest in a neighbouring parish and listened to the anquish of the refugees, who had fled from Mosul, Alqosh, Telkef, Telascof and so many others. We saw the cramped conditions under which they live and heard of the generosity of other Christian families, who share their own often humble homes with one or two other families.
We went to one village, Baghere, where the priests had only just discovered 47 refugee families. Among them were one-month old twins, coming into the world as refugees.
Concern for their children
All these people told the same story of how they had left Mosul with nothing, often fleeing in panic once they realized that the 60,000 government troops had gone. They spoke of their concern for their children. One man introduced us to his two daughters who have been studying at the university in Mosul – one of them a medical student with 15 other Christian students in her class. Some 8,000 of the approximately 40,000 students at the university in Mosul are Christian. Will they be able to return?
Some of the refugees spoke about wanting to leave Iraq believing that they have no future in the country and disappointed by the attitude of their former Muslim neighbours, who robbed their homes once they had left. Others said they wanted to stay; they want to go back to their villages and homes, but only if there is an international peace-keeping force ready to protect them. As the day went on, this same wish was repeated several times. One young fifteen year-old girl, Ronda, looked surprised when we asked her if she wanted to leave. “I want to stay in Iraq,” she said, “I love it.”