ICC Note: A mother of four and her children, a 57-year-old carpenter and his wife, these are just a few of the hundreds of thousands whose lives have been torn apart by the ISIS militants who have destroyed much of Iraq and Syria. Those who are able to leave are streaming out of the country, searching for refugee in Lebanon, Jordan, and others leaving the region all together. For hundreds of thousands more this is not an option and they face a brutal winter in terrible conditions.
10/31/2014 Iraq (Catholic Herald) – When ISIS was pushing its way into Qaraqosh, a Christian town in Iraq’s north-western Nineveh Plain, late in June, Hayfaa Messo was at the town’s hospital visiting her eldest daughter.
A mother of four, Messo had to run away with her daughter’s medication, along with tens of thousands of her fellow Assyrians, further north to the safety of semi-autonomous Kurdish region.
“The shelling was over our houses,” Messo, a member of the Syriac Catholic Church, said in a recent interview at her one-room rented flat in the Assyrian Quarter in Sad al-Busherieh, Beirut.
Messo and her family returned home the next day, along with the majority of the 50,000-strong Christian residents of Qaraqosh, after the fighting briefly stopped between the Kurdish forces, called the Peshmerga, and ISIS.
But the clashes over Qaraqosh continued throughout early July. Messo’s husband, Khalil Atallah, decided to take the family to Beirut for good. So did Mazen Samuel Ayoub, 57, a wealthy Assyrian Orthodox Christian who owned carpentry, turnery and electricity workshops in Mosul, but fled to Bashiqa, another Assyrian Nineveh Plain town.
Dana Sleiman, spokeswoman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Beirut, says that Iraqi Christians form about half the registered 400 Iraqi refugees who fled to Lebanon during June and July. Their numbers are increasing steadily, according to officials representing Assyrian churches in Beirut.
Mor Theophilus George Saliba, the Syriac Orthodox Archbishop of Mount Lebanon, said that his church receives requests for aid from tens of Iraqi Christians fleeing their troubled region on a daily basis. Sargon Zomaya, a priest of the Assyrian Church of the East in Beirut, confirmed that his church was distributing aid to steadily increasing numbers of Iraqi Christian refugees.
Ayoub breaks down in tears when recalling vividly his encounter with ISIS militants at a checkpoint installed on a highway outside Mosul. He said five of them “came towards me like monsters, wolves” when the man at the checkpoint shouted: “This one also is a Christian!” Ayoub and his wife, who was wearing traditional Islamic garments to blend in with the other travellers on the road, were fleeing in their Chevrolet Trailblazer in mid-July. “They yelled: ‘Get out, get out, get out!’” he recalled. “I told them: ‘What’s wrong with you?’
“They told me: ‘Get out and leave the car. Nothing belongs to you anymore. You are running away from Mosul! You are running away! Where are you going to go? Wherever you go, we will follow you’,” said Ayoub, who suffers from heart problems.
He said the militants confiscated all their belongings, including the car, mobile phones, money, ID documents, and food items, and threatened to kill anyone who proved to be hiding any valuables. The couple walked a long distance until they found a Peshmerga checkpoint.