Iraqi refugees tell their story

Iraq (MNN) — ISIS continues its offensive across Syria and Iraq, leaving many victims in its wake. The stories of ISIS killing males above 10 years old, the systematic rape of women and girls, and the looting of personal possessions is shocking, even to many Muslims.

SAT-7, a Christian satellite television network to the Middle East and North Africa, went into a refugee camp to interview victims of these heinous crimes against humanity. We’ve transcribed these interviews so you can get a sense of what they’ve experienced.  

SAT-7 is coordinating a day of prayer for the Middle East this Sunday. Get your prayer kit here. 

Iraqi refugeesAnnouncer: Friends, from the heart of the land of St. Mark’s Coptic Church in Sulaymaniya, which is still under construction.  The hall is now being used to hold [services]and prayers, but this has been turned into a camp for displaced Christians from Mosul, among them some Egyptian Christians who we’ll meet and we’ll meet with Christians displaced from Mosul.

Announcer: Mr. Abu Ayzan, we welcome you and your honorable family.

Abu:  Greetings to you, and thank you.

ANNOUNCER:  Mr. Abu Ayzam, you were in Mosul and your wife is Iraqi. Tell us exactly what happened?

ABU: It was — a Friday morning. A group of people in Mosul called us. My wife and kids threw our belongings together and reached a checkpoint.  We took a taxi and came across armed men along the way.  They asked us if we were Christians. We said, yes. They demanded, “Give us you mobile (phones), your gold, and your money.” They took our mobiles and our gold.

WIFE: They took 450,000 [Dinars] ($386.93 USD) out of my husband’s pocket.

ABU: They said, “Pay the jizya tax, convert to Islam or be slaughtered.” We were going to pay the jizya tax. We paid it and said, “Let us pass.”  This happened yesterday, we were going to pay them.  They said, “No, that’s not going to work this time.”  We had hidden our money around our waistbands.

WIFE: The armed men passed by me and behind them were veiled women, wearing red clothes.  And, they searched me, took my money and gold. They even searched my daughters. It was our lifesavings. They took all of it.  The 450,000 dinars were in my husband’s pocket and they took it. There were six batches of money they took from me and all of the gold. My parents had sold their home. I had hidden THIS money in my house in Mosul. When we were going up from Mosul they threatened us.  They took our stuff and detained us along the way, like a checkpoint.

ANNOUNCER: So, they took all the savings and everything?

WIFE: Believe me, they stole everything. They said, “Let your Bishops give you money.” They demanded our Bishops initiate a ransom for us. They didn’t let us pay the jizya tax. They threatened us.  If you saw the situation of Christians at checkpoints, you would cry. They were bringing more armed men to add more pressure on us.  You see the beards … and they don’t communicate.  And, their manners are never pleasant.

ABU: I told her to take half her money and I’ll take half, so we can pass.

WIFE: You see, the Christians look pitiful lying on the ground or crying. Some hid their money and gold in cars and even the cars were stolen.  God will grant us our rights from them, God-willing. May Christ grant us our rights from them, God-willing.

MAKRAM FAHMY: My name is Brother Mkram Fahmy.  I’m from Minia, Egypt.

WASFI ABDULLAH: I’m Wasfi Abdullah from Fayoum, Egypt.

ANNOUNCER: Tell us what happened to you, Brother Makram.

MAKRAM: What happened is, we were leaving Mosul. All the Christians were leaving.  We went to Hamdaneya, stayed about 13 days, then [we] went to Erbil. From Erbil, we came to the church here, because this is the only place with a Coptic Church. Not just because of the church, but it’s also safer here. It’s safe and the people are good here.

ANNOUNCER: Isn’t Erbil safe, too?

MAKRAM: Erbil is dangerous and it’s not like here.

ANNOUNCER: Did you ever meet any ISIS members.?

MAKRAM: When I was working in Mosul, there were times I talked to them. At first, they seemed like good people. But, that wasn’t their true selves. They were playing a part.

ANNOUNCER: And, they were in Mosul, working among you….

MAKRAM: Yes, we had no idea. People were asking them, “What do you want?” They said, “We’re killing the Shiites.”

ANNOUNCER: There were Shiites in Mosul? And, ISIS was killing Shiites?

MAKRAM: Yes, they knew the Shiites and were killing them, particularly the police. They turned on each other. They turned on Islam. The Muslims despise [the police].

ANNOUNCER: So, ISIS started out against Shiites and now they’re against Christians and Yazidis?

MARKAM: Yes, ISIS doesn’t accept equality. They despise them in Mosul.

ANNOUNCER: What would you like to say, brother (Wasfi Abdullah)?

WASFI:  I was displaced from Mosul. I had moved from Egypt to Mosul.

ANNOUNCER: When was that?

WASFI: I’ve been in Iraq 32 years. I’ve lived in Mosul for 26 years and in Qaraqosh for six years. I fled Mosul, but at that time, there was no ISIS. There were other terrorist militias. They were taking a jizya tax from shops. I owned shops, thank God, that God had given me. But, the Lord gives and the Lord takes away, bless the name of the Lord. It’s all gone, praise God. Every so often, I paid the jizya tax.

ANNOUNCER: What kind of shops did you have?

WASFI: I had a shop selling nuts and spices. I had supermarkets with Egyptian products. I had a Christian bookshop beside the church.

ANNOUNCER: Was it all taken?

WASFI: Yes, I would bring things from Egypt, from here and there. I used to go to Egypt and get Christian products like crosses to bring back. I was selling them to the churches. I was selling the products to pay the jizya tax. I found an envelope with a bullet in it in the door of one of my shops. They said, “Pay or get out.” This is the other thing. I took my family — I’m married — and we fled to a village called Bartella. We went from Bartella to Qaraqosh. I went to my bookshop in Qaraqosh. ISIS had arrived in Qaraqosh. I went up at 11pm. I was the last one ot leave from Qaraqosh that night. [ISIS] had set up a checkpoint. I was the last one to leave. There are people staying, but most fled. If I had taken five minutes longer, they would have detained me. We left with the shirts on our backs. They stole all our things. They burned down my bookshop and stores. And, here we are. So, we arrived in Erbil. Father Shenouda contacted us. He’s responsible for Jordan, but he is also the Bishop for also northern Iraq. He would check on us from time to time to ask, “Where have you arrived now?” The association sent a car because we said, “Father, none of us have any money.” He said to take a taxi at the expense of the Egyptian Church, and take everyone who wants to go to the Church.

ANNOUNCER: From Qaraqosh?

WASFI: No, from Erbil. We went from Erbil to Ainkawa. We went to Ainkawa. There were people sitting in the street in, the sun. People in the building said, “I have no mat, no food, no cold water.” It’s crouded. How can that be? There were more people than you can imagine.

Iraqi RefugeesANNOUNCER: So, you went to Erbil?

WASFI: Of course, we went to Erbil. This long, old road was congested on both sides. Cars couldn’t pass. People were sleeping in the streets. There wasn’t even any food. So, our priest told us, “Take the car and go to Sulaymaniyah, all of you.” I said, “What about the checkpoints?”  He said, “Don’t worry about it. The Church will pay the bill, inform the authorities, and get you there.” Praise God, we got to Sulaymaniyah. We arrived. We asked our priest about the money. He said, “Get it from the church.” I said, “This is too much to pay.” He said, “It was an order from the archbishop to pay as much as it costs for your safety.” He said, “We’ll pay for you. If you want to travel, travel on the church’s tab.” Thank God we didn’t need anything. We’re staying, but we’re exhausted. We don’t know what our future is. What is our fate? We don’t know.  We’re confused and lost. I’ve been in Iraq 31 years. There’s nothing left from me in Egypt.

ANNOUNCER: God willing, this land will be freed and you can return where you were before.

WASFI: And then? The shops are burned down. Where will we work? After all that, how will we work? I can’t go back to my work. At my age, I can’t start over.

ANNOUNCER: Ms. Nehad Nejmi Yaqoub, we welcome you to SAT-7. You’re from the Chaldean Church and you serve here in the Coptic Church. We learned you were up all night checking on the patrols of all the people traveling. Tell us about your experience helping the displaced Christians who are fleeing.

NEHAD: in July, they began coming here from Mosul. The priest called me late at night and said, “You have to help.” Our brothers, they’re all coming from the checkpoint, because there was crowding from the Yazidis and Christian groups. It was difficult to enter Sulaymaniyah.  The director of the checkpoint is a friend. We called him and made it easy, we said, “Bring them up to the church.”

ANNOUNCER: Who are the 900 people we heard about? What happened to them?

NEHAD: There were 900 factory works and engineers in Salah al-Din City. There was an attack on the factory and our priest called us. We called my cousin and he helped them out. He’s the director of security in Ainkawa.

ANNOUNCER: Where did they go?

NEHAD: They all went to Egypt. They’re all Christians.

ANNOUNCER: God bless you. How do you feel now about the situation and the future?

NEHAD: I’m happy because all of the Christians came together a the church in unity. The important thing is we’re Christians. I don’t like to say Coptic, Catholic, Syriac. We’re Christians. We’re all one.

ANNOUNCER: Thank you Ms. Nehad and may God bless you and your work.

Iraqi woman: God have mercy on us and on  all Christians and on Muslim refugees. Deliver us from this crisis. Help us return home. We don’t care if the house is empty or destroyed. We can live by its wall. Living there among ruins is better than living here.

Iraqi man: I pray God will deliver us from this persecution and tyranny.  God knows what is happening and will give us justice.

Iraqi Woman: I pray for all Iraq and for all the Middle East as well.

Iraqi Man: I ask God, what did these people do, these peaceful, simple people? Was their crime that they go to church and pray? I pray to God to solve this problem.

Iraqi Woman: I don’t want anything but to go back home…home with peace and safety. This is my only request of God.

Iraqi Man: I pray that the situation gets better

Iraqi Girl: I want to go back to my school.