3 September 2014
Refugees line up at a makeshift dispensary set up in Erbil. (photo: CNEWA)
From Iraq, we received a heart-breaking letter from Sister Maria Hanna, superior general of the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena, an Iraqi community of women religious with whom we collaborate closely.
“We entered the fourth week of displacement. Yet, there is nothing promising at all,” she writes of the displacement of more than a hundred thousand Christian refugees from their homes in the Nineveh Plain of northern Iraq. The Kurds, she writes, allowed the displaced “to enter their province,” but Sister Maria points out, “the church [had to] take full responsibility of us all.
“Yet, the number of refugees was so large that the Kurdish government had to face the stark reality and open their schools to provide additional shelter for refugees.
“We hear a lot about world governments and organizations sending financial aid to Iraq,” she continues, “but the refugee gets the least — we do not know or understand why.
“People lost almost everything,” she continues. “They cannot even afford to buy milk or formula for their children. What saddens us most is that, only one month ago, these people were the most educated in the country and among those most likely to build a life for themselves and their family, and now they do not have enough money in their pockets to survive the day. Christians became accustomed to investing their money in businesses, shops, fields, buildings, etc., [in order] to build their communities. Leaving their towns meant leaving everything they had been working for all their lives.
“Yet, amidst losing everything, accepting their lost dignity, is the most difficult loss they may experience.
“Some have found shelter in tents, others in schools, still others in church halls and gardens. They wait to be fed, or given food to cook; elderly are not being taken care of properly; children are living in unhealthy conditions; families have lost their privacy; women are exposed in these places; men have no jobs in a culture where a man is expected to support his families.
“Refusing to live without dignity, more and more people think of emigrating. Whoever owns a car or gold, sells them to buy a plane ticket out of the country. Needless to say, the buyers in Kurdistan are taking advantage and do not take into consideration the devastation these refugees face.
“Christians in Iraq are known for their faithfulness and peaceful way of living among others. They do not believe in violence or in war as a way to solve problems. Now, they feel that they are victims because other religions and political parties are dividing the country on the account of the innocent.
“None of us is a political analyst,” Sister Maria says, but “we still wonder why the world cannot petition the United Nations to take serious action toward the Islamic State [as ISIS now calls itself], and save the people from their misery, knowing that the Islamic State is the most dangerous group in the world.
“Is the world deaf and blind? she asks.
Of the despair now settling in among her people, Sister Maria writes that “people are almost convinced the only way out of this crisis is to emigrate and leave the country, if it is even possible. It is certain many have reached their breaking point and despair is setting in. Maybe emigrating is the only way to stop living in such a catastrophic humanitarian crisis.
“People cannot endure this persecution, marginalization, contempt and rejection anymore.
“If there is any other way, besides emigration, please let us know. Otherwise, please help people get out of the country, by seeking asylum, according to the U.N. law.”
In addition to its ongoing support of the churches in Iraq, CNEWA has rushed an initial installment of emergency funds to the sisters for the provision of milk, formula and diapers for children as well as the installation of portable sanitary units in camps in Dohuk and Erbil. CNEWA’s Beirut-based regional director, Michel Constantin, is in Erbil now, leading a team to coordinate better the work of the sisters and various volunteer initiatives of the Chaldean and Syriac churches.
Click here to learn how you can help Iraq’s displaced Christian families.