(AINA) Reuters– A six-year old Iraqi Christian girl, kidnapped by Islamic State when she was three, was reunited with her family on Friday, and getting used to saying “mum” and “dad” once more.
“The best day of my life is the day when Christina came back,” said her mother, Aida Nuh, on Saturday.
Dark circles around her eyes are evidence of sleepless nights since August 2014, when the militants snatched Christina from her, a few weeks after overrunning the town of Qaraqosh, 15 km (10 miles) southeast of Mosul.
“She stayed three years with the terrorists. Of course she forgot who her mother is, who her father is, that we are her family, but she will learn again.”
Islamic State has kidnapped thousands of men, women and children from Iraq’s minorities, mainly Yazidis.
Christians who did not or could not escape in time were faced with an ultimatum – pay a tax for protection, convert to Islam, or die by the sword. Some, like Christina, were kidnapped.
Christian families who remained in Qaraqosh were forcibly displaced on Aug. 22, 2014. The militants took away Christina from the minibus which had driven them to the edge of Islamic State territory, after threatening Aida, who desperately resisted.
The family’s efforts to track her though Arab friends were rewarded on Friday, when they got a call telling them Christina had been found in Hayy al-Tanak, a poor neighborhood of Mosul.
Eighth months into the U.S-backed offensive to take back Mosul, all of the city has fallen to Iraqi government forces except a pocket by the western bank of the Tigris river.
We went to a dirty place in Hayy el-Tanak (..), we took the child,” said Christina’s blind father, Khader Touma, wearing dark glasses and surrounded by the family now complete with the return of his youngest daughter.
Her two sisters and two brothers had escaped to Kurdish territory before the arrival of the militants.
“I’m with mum and dad,” said Christina, playing with a plastic toy, in a mobile home for displaced people in Ankawa, a Christian suburb of the Kurdish capital Erbil, east of Mosul.
The parents said they now hoped to emigrate, to put their ordeal behind them.
In the meantime, they face a long wait in the cramped cabin, because their home in Qaraqosh was almost completely destroyed in the fighting to dislodge the militants.
Writing by Maher Chmaytelli; Editing by Andrew Bolton.
(World Watch Monitor) Three years to the day since the Islamic State group took control of the Iraqi city of Mosul, a new report estimates that 50-80% of the Christian populations of Iraq and Syria have emigrated since the start of the Syrian civil war in 2011.
The arrival of IS was only the “tipping point” of a trend already gathering pace as Christians experienced an “overall loss of hope for a safe and secure future”, according to the report, produced by Christian charities Open Doors, Served and Middle East Concern.
The report also notes that for the Christians who have settled elsewhere, there is “little incentive” to return, with several interviewees saying “the Middle East is no longer a home for Christians”.
“There is little incentive to return, with several interviewees saying the Middle East is no longer a home for Christians.”
In a policy paper released alongside the report, the three charities call on the EU to help establish an “accountability mechanism” to deal with incidents of religious and ethnic persecution and discrimination in Iraq and Syria.
“Creating a national accountability mechanism for grievances is a long-term solution which aims to restore faith in a system that ensures all religious and ethnic communities are affirmed as equal citizens and deserving of protection, while also deterring negative actors from taking adverse actions against these communities,” the charities write.
They urge the EU to “advocate for the establishment of the mechanism through its contacts with the Iraqi and Syrian governments” and to provide funding, technical support and monitoring. The mechanism, the charities add, “should be transparent and inclusive, ensuring all key stakeholders at all levels (government, community leaders, civil society and the public) are represented adequately”.
The report, ‘Understanding the recent movements of Christians leaving Syria and Iraq’, acknowledges the difficulty of producing definitive figures, as it estimates that the overall Christian population of Iraq has reduced from “well over 300,000” in 2014 to 200,000-250,000 today – “many” of whom are now displaced internally. In Syria, meanwhile, the charities estimate that the Christian population of around 2 million in 2011 has “roughly halved”.
“Factors for leaving included the violence of conflict, including the almost complete destruction of some historically Christian towns in the Nineveh plains of northern Iraq, the emigration of others and loss of community, the rate of inflation and loss of employment opportunities, and the lack of educational opportunities,” the report notes. “While direct violence, such as the movements of ISIS in both Iraq and Syria, was the tipping point for displacement, the ultimate decision to leave the countries was portrayed as an accumulation of factors over time.”
A greater number of Christians are thought to have left Syria, but only because the initial population was higher, according to the report, which adds that a greater proportion of Iraq’s Christians have left the country.
The Christians have emigrated via a range of routes, including resettlement programmes through churches, formal refugee registration and “illegal routes” – though the deaths of Christians trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea to Europe have reportedly “dissuaded some”, while “the high price of these routes have made them unavailable for others”.
Lebanon has reportedly taken in the most Christians, while thousands more have resettled in Jordan and Turkey, and a smaller number in European countries such as Sweden and Germany. However, “recent policy changes, as well as living conditions, have made arrival or staying in many of these countries, such as Sweden, incredibly difficult”, the report concludes, adding: “There were reports of returns [home], but many expressed the sentiment that Christians have given up hope of returning.”
However, the charities note that “many” of those who remain “want to play their part in rebuilding the shattered societies of Iraq and Syria. They want to be seen as Iraqi or Syrian citizens, enjoying the full rights of citizenship, such as equality before the law and full protection of their right to freedom of religion or belief, including the ability for everyone to freely worship, practise, teach, choose and change their religion. They are not calling for special privileges as a religious minority.”
Mosul (Agenzia Fides) – The widespread statement released on Friday 12 May by three Syriac Bishops (a Syirac-Catholic and two Syriac-Orthodox) in northern Iraq, asking for the creation of a protected area reserved for Christians in the Nineveh Plain to be placed under international protection, to take away Iraqi baptized from sectarian persecution and violence, is causing embarrassment.
The Nineveh Province, scattered by Christian-majority towns and villages, was conquered by the jihadists of the self-proclaimed Islamic State (Daesh) between spring and summer 2014. In those months, tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians fled from their villages in front of the advancing jihadist militia, finding shelter in the autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan.
The statement issued last Friday to regional and national authorities and to international organizations was signed by two Archbishops of Mosul – Syriac Catholic Boutros Moshe and Syriac Orthodox Mar Nicodemus Daud Matti Sharaf – and by Mar Timotheos Musa al Shamany, Syriac Orthodox Archbishop of Bartellah. The three Archbishops ask to transform the Nineveh Plain into an autonomous area under UN international protection to take it away from conflicts and safeguard the rights of Christian communities that have their traditional roots in those lands. The statement also claimed the right of administrative autonomy for Christian communities in the Nineveh Plain.
On Saturday, May 13, the Chaldean Patriarchate issued an official statement to underline that the statement released the previous day does not reflect the position of the Chaldean Church, and does not represent it. The Patriarchate’s statement refers to a recent statement by Patriarch Louis Raphael Sako. In that text, as reported by Agenzia Fides (see Fides 6/5/2017), the Primate of the Chaldean Church underlined that in this critical stage the priority for so many displaced Iraqi Christian is to try to return to their home towns. This implies the urgent need to rebuild the destroyed infrastructure, also taking advantage of international aid. But only after the return of stability in the Country, processes to require the creation of new autonomous administrative units can be initiated, such as instruments to protect the rights and continuity of minority ethnic-religious groups”. (GV) (Agenzia Fides 15/5/2017)
VOP Note: According to reports. Lebanon has the highest per-capita concentration of refugees in the world. 1 out of every four people is a refugee.
Despite the numbers, Lebanon has a “no camp” policy which means refugees are not allowed to settle in large scale camps. Instead, they are forced to live in temporary shelters, often on waste land. Refugees are not entitled to work and have difficulty accessing schools and healthcare in Lebanon.
(Agenzia Fides) – On February 13, a small procession of about two hundred Christian Iraqi refugees staged a symbolic demonstration outside the local UN headquarters in downtown Beirut to demand their requests to travel to other countries, filed some time ago in the competent offices of several foreign diplomatic representations operating in the Lebanese capital. The posters displayed by the protesters, and the statements made by some of them to the local press, confirm the impression that most of the exiled Christian refugees from Iraq have no intention of returning to their Country, and do not even intend to take root in Lebanon but are hoping to emigrate as soon as possible towards some Western nation.
According to data provided by the local Chaldean community, difficult to verify, about 8 thousand Iraqi Christians emigrated to Lebanon, especially after the conquest of Mosul and Nineveh Plain by the jihadist Islamic State (Daesh).
US President Donald Trump, who began a tug of war with some US judges to impose provisions designed to limit or suspend immigration from certain countries with a Muslim majority, has instead recognized as a “priority” the granting of refugee legal status to the category of “persecuted Christians”. The idea of preparing a “fast track” open for Christian refugees entering the United States, while doors are closed to non-Christian citizens from Countries with an Islamic majority, “has been defined by Chaldean Patriarch Raphael Louis Sako I a “Trap” for Christians in the Middle East (see Fides 30/01/2017). “Every host country policy that discriminates against the persecuted and those who suffer on religious grounds”, explains Patriarch Louis Raphael, Primate of the Eastern Catholic Church, to which the vast majority of Iraqi Christians belong”, ultimately harms the Christians of the East, because among other things provi des arguments to all propaganda and prejudice that attack the native community of the Middle East as ‘foreign bodies’, groups supported and defended by Western powers”.
Please pray for our brothers and sisters seeking refuge from persecution.
Reminder: It was the Church that aided 1st century persecuted Christian refugees.
The people who held him, ISIS fighters, found in his possession a picture of Jesus and two small crosses. They took the items away, burned them, and told him he would be beheaded if they found any more.
Ismail could tell they were serious this time. So he took his last cross — the only one they hadn’t found — and hid it very carefully in the back of a cable receiver box.
“When I left it there, I told myself the cross is not just around the neck, it’s in the heart,” Ismail, 16, says.
It was a small act of defiance — an attempt to retain a part of himself. It was also a symbol of hope. He was telling himself that one day he would be back to collect it. That he would survive. (more…)
Christians in 17th century Japan were given this choice, and it’s the same for Christians in many parts of the world today.
Throughout the film, the audience is shown Christians being told to step on – or, in one case, spit on – an image of Jesus or Mary. Some do; others can’t.
This same choice was given to Zarefa, an elderly Iraqi Christian woman, when the Islamic State captured her town in 2014. During a raid on the house where she was staying, IS fighters found a few crucifixes and other Christian images – strictly illegal under IS rule.
“They forced me to spit on the Cross,” Zarefa recalls. “I told them that it was not appropriate, that it was a sin. He said that I must spit. ‘Don’t you see that I have a gun?’ he asked me. I said to myself, (more…)
Mosul (Agenzia Fides) – On Sunday, January 8 the Iraqi regular army regained control of al Sukkar, an area in eastern Mosul once inhabited mostly by Christian families. This is what local sources reported to online magazine ankawa. The area comprises at least 700 homes belonging to Christian owners, some of whom had been occupied by foreign militants of the Islamic State (Daesh).
Many of the homes in the neighborhood had been marked with the Arabic letter “Nun”, the initial of the word Nasara, which means Christian, to indicate that those houses could be expropriated and were available to supporters of Daesh. The houses had been abandoned by Christians since, June 9, 2014, when Mosul had fallen into the hands of the jihadists of the Islamic State. According to reports from local sources, most of the buildings and also the pediatric hospital located in the neighborhood, were destroyed or damaged.
“News from Mosul need our attention”, says to Agenzia Fides father Thabit Mekko, Chaldean priest of the north-Iraqi town, currently displaced in Erbil together with his faithful, “but the situation is still dangerous, there are snipers in roads and it is too early to think about a return of Christians who have fled from their homes. Such a case will be considered only when security is assured. Many families have not yet decided what they will do. Not all those who left Mosul in front of the advance of Daesh will return”.
Meanwhile, Sunday, January 8 was marred by yet another bombing in the district of Jamila in Baghdad. A car bomb in a crowded wholesale market, claimed by Daesh, caused at least 12 dead and 50 wounded.
Pray for our brothers and sisters suffering in Iraq.
(World Watch Monitor) The UN must urgently put in place measures to hold to account jihadists who have committed atrocities against minorities in Iraq and Syria, because existing conventions have become “obsolete”, the author of a book documenting recent violence against them has said.
Vienna-based legal counsel Ewelina Ochab, who authored ‘Never again: Legal responses to a broken promise in the Middle East’, accused the UN of breaking the pledges it made in the aftermath of World War II to prevent genocide from recurring.
Speaking at the book’s launch at the UN’s Palais des Nations in Geneva on 24 November, she argued that the conventions on genocide prevention had become “obsolete” because measures had not been taken to bring to justice members of the Islamic State (IS), whose attacks on Christians and other religious minorities amounted to “genocide”.
Ochab said the legal process against IS members could be carried out in one of three ways: by trying suspected perpetrators at the International Criminal Court in The Hague, by trying them at an “ad hoc” International Criminal Court set up specifically to deal with atrocities in Iraq and Syria, or by setting up a UN-backed court in Iraq, Syria or elsewhere in the Middle East. In the first two scenarios, she said national courts in Iraq and Syria should support the ICC’s work to prosecute all accomplices.
To introduce her work, Ochab held up a piece of a cross that she picked up in a destroyed church in the formerly IS-held town of Qaraqosh in northern Iraq, as well as a few pages of a Bible. Ochab’s book draws on testimonies collected by the Vienna-based charity ADF International. Never Again includes eyewitness accounts of IS atrocities, the international community’s response to recent genocides, and analysis of existing genocide legislation. She argues that the current legal safeguards have failed to protect vulnerable communities from ethnic, cultural, and religious destruction.
According to the last census before the US-led invasion of 2003, there were as many as 1.4 million Christians in Iraq. Ochab noted that today there are thought to be fewer than 250,000. Many factors are behind the exodus of Christians from Iraq, which the chaotic aftermath of the invasion accelerated. The rise of IS in 2014 drove many of the country’s remaining Christians to abandon their homeland. Those who remained, along with [Yazidis], who were not given the option to flee, have told of atrocities and soldiers liberating IS-held towns and villages around Mosul have found many churches burnt out and badly vandalised.
A spokesman for the charity said: “We published this book to demonstrate clearly that the Christians of the Middle East are living through a genocide and so that the UN Security Council recognises that and fights the impunity of Daesh [IS] members.”
Citing the executions and crucifixions to which Christians and other religious minorities were subjected during the two years in which Daesh controlled territory in Iraq, spokesman Andreas Thonhauser said: “The impunity of Daesh must stop.”
Only the United States, the Council of Europe, the European Parliament and Britain’s House of Commons have recognised the atrocities by IS against Christians and other religious minorities in Syria and Iraq such as Yezidis as genocide. Canada has recognised a genocide of Yezidis.
IS militants are known to come from Europe, Russia, Central Asia, China and North America, as well as North Africa and the Middle East. Some campaigners have called for them to be prosecuted by the countries in which they have citizenship.
Ochab said the jihadist violence seen in Iraq and Syria forms part of a larger push by Islamic extremists “to eliminate the Christian presence from the Middle East”.
After the Second World War, haunted by the atrocities committed by the Nazis, the international community vowed to never again allow such barbarity. However, Ochab argued that the atrocities experienced by peoples of the former Yugoslavia or Rwanda demonstrated that the promise was fragile. She said in such circumstances that it was necessary to “leave the silence” and “denounce what turns out to be genocide”.