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ICC Note: A house church gathering in Tehran, Iran was raided by security forces and at least two Christians were arrested in a raid that took place earlier this month. The men are currently being held in Ghezal-Hesar prison, but the charges against them have not yet been made known. This is the latest in a series of crackdowns on Iranian churches. Nearly 50 Iranian Christians are known to be currently held in prison, and the full number is believed to be much higher.

By Matthew Clayfield

08/29/2014 Iraq (SBS) – For ten long days, Ghazala Elyas lived under the self-proclaimed caliphate of the group that calls itself the Islamic State.

Mrs Elyas, 80, is in remission for cancer, but remains bed-ridden for a host of other conditions, including diabetes. She recounted her story from a half-built apartment block in Ankawa, the Christian quarter of Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan. She shares the space with more than 500 others from the majority Christian village of Karamlish, which she finally evacuated less than a week ago.

Ankawa has seen its population explode with the arrival of an estimated 32,5000 internally-displaced persons (IDPs) since the IS captured Mosul, 92 kilometres west of Erbil, in June and subsequently set about taking over numerous nearby towns and villages as well.

When all but 11 of Mrs Elyas’s fellow villagers fled Karamlish on the night of August 6, she and her sister-and-law locked the doors and hoped for the best.

They held out for five days, oblivious of what was going on outside, until they ran out of food and water and were forced to allow the militants into their home.

The IS “boss”, as Mrs Elyas called him, was respectful towards them, she said. “He said he would bring us anything we needed. We asked for food and water.”

“But Daesh [a derogatory term based on the Arabic acronym for ISIS] had done terrible things to our village,” she said. “They had destroyed the church and all its crucifixes and statues.”

They had also looted the abandoned homes of anything of value and attempted to persuade the remaining Christians in the village to convert to Islam with promises of money and homes in Mosul. “They tried to bribe us,” said Nadar Eleya, 30, who stayed in the village with his brother and mother after the latter refused to give up her home.

fter ten days, the remaining Christians were given the choice to either convert, pay the jizyah tax for religious minorities and submit to inferior status under sharia law, or leave town with only the clothes on their back. Mrs Elyas did not think twice. “I love Jesus Christ,” she said. “Not Mohammad.” Along with her sister-in-law and seven others, including Mr Eleya and his family, she left. No one knows what has happened to the two who remained.

The UN has described the IDP situation in Iraqi Kurdistan as a “humanitarian tragedy,” with close to 700,000 displaced people currently being hosted in the region. Kurdistan’s autonomous regional government, its finances already under pressure after Baghdad froze its share of the federal budget in February following a dispute over oil revenues, now faces the added strain of increased funding for the region’s Peshmerga forces as well as the cost of hosting the displaced.

And “hosting” is putting it charitably. “Too many [IDPs] are living in woeful conditions,” UNHCR spokesperson Adrian Edwards said last week. “While accurate figures are not expected until early September when registration is complete, we estimate that hundreds of thousands are living in unfinished buildings, mosques, churches, parks and schools.”

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