Two years after the Islamic State’s military defeat, going home appears a distant prospect. There are still many needs, but aid and resources have been reduced. The Iraq issue and Mideast political and religious tensions have increased insecurity. Clergyman pleads “don’t forget” because the disappearance of Christians will have tragic consequences for the region.
Erbil (AsiaNews) – Five years after the rise of the Islamic State (IS) group and the founding of the caliphate and two years after its military defeat, “little has been done” to provide refugee families and displaced people a safe return and a home to restart the life they had, this according to Fr Samir Youssef, a parish priest in the Diocese of Amadiya, who spoke to AsiaNews.
Over the past few years, the clergyman has helped thousands of Christians, Muslims and Yazidis who fled from Mosul and the plain of Nineveh in the summer of 2014.
“People thought they could quickly go back home,” he explained, “but the reality they found is quite different. There is nothing there. There are so many needs, and there are less and less resources and aid.”
The priest, who is the pastor in Enishke, Iraqi Kurdistan, is among the beneficiaries of AsiaNews’s campaign Adopt a Christian from Mosul, which continues to provide support and help whilst demands rise and the international community does almost nothing.
“The tragedies and difficult circumstances did not end with the military offensive; in fact, they got worse,” he notes. “The old city in Mosul, where the oldest churches are located, still lay in ruins. Services have not yet been restored. In the Nineveh Plain, things are bit better, but much remains to be done. Two years after the end of the war, few things have been done to encourage people to return. A lot of work needs to be done in terms of security, water distribution, jobs, hospitals, schools.”
Five years after IS’s rise in August 2014, holding at one point half of Syria and Iraq, the wounds caused by the violence and brutality of the jihadi group are still open. Today IS fighters still control a small area straddling the two countries that is becoming smaller and smaller as the regular armies of the two countries move forward; however, its ideology remains alive and military defeat has not eliminated the threat it poses.
For the Chaldean priest “IS’s ideology is still present”. In fact, “The Iraq question is not just economic, or about security, but revolves around a religious and political conflict within Islam.”
“We are in the middle of the Gulf; this is our fortune but also our misfortune. We live amid conflicts and tensions that have gotten worse as tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia escalated. Either side wants to control and rule, and this can only increase the sense of insecurity and hinder the return of refugees.”
In Mosul, “reconstruction work has not yet started because we still don’t have a stable local government. International NGOs, including Church-run associations, cannot start any project due to the lack of security and limited funding. Most people think that it is useless to start work and reconstruction, if the bases for return are missing.”
Until recently, “most refugees hoped to return to their land, to their homes. Some went back to Mosul and the Nineveh Plain, but now we see a reverse flow, with people returning to Iraqi Kurdistan, because in their land conditions to rebuild a life in safety are missing.”
Over 40 per cent of those displaced in the summer of 2014, “are still here in Kurdistan, and the percentage is perhaps greater for Christians and Yazidis” and families “still depend largely on aid”.
It is still an emergency situation. “The basic problem is the lack of jobs. It is hard to find the money to pay for student school transport. We need 30 dollars a month per student, for a total of 60 to 70 children. So far, we have relied on resources from benefactors, from readers of AsiaNews, from parishes in Italy and Europe, but today we are in difficulty.”
Now more and more refugee families feel connected to Kurdistan and would like to build a future in what they consider their adopted land, especially among the children who struggle to remember Mosul, Nineveh, and their villages of origin.
“For this reason,” Fr Samir said, “it is important to continue to support our work. We need your voice and closeness, as well as your political, economic, social and religious support. Don’t abandon us, don’t forget us because the collapse of the Mideast mosaic, the disappearance of Christians as an element of bridge and dialogue, will have tragic repercussions for the whole world.”