(From Amman) Naeel had not yet turned 18 when the black Militia of the Caliphate entered Mosul armed with Kalashnikov guns. It was June 2014. That’s when his life and that of his family ceased to exist, he said. He was a Syro-Orthodox Christian planning to enrol in University, perhaps following into his father’s footsteps, an electronic engineer, then get married, have a family and settle down in his home town. Many young people like him share these dreams and hopes: forced to flee from Caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Since the summer of 2014 Naeel, with his father and the rest of his family, 5 people all together, have been living in the Centre “Our Lady of Peace” in Amman, run by Caritas Jordan, under the auspices of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, which provides assistance to approximately 8500 Iraqi Christians across the entire Hashemite reign. Naeel spends his days doing some work for the Centre – not a fixed job – and studying. But the days are long, especially for a boy just turned 18 with much eagerness to work and learn.
“There is no room for Christians or minority groups in the Caliphate. We could not continue living in the city. Our options were to either convert to Islam, pay the protection tax, or be killed. We did not renounce our faith and we fled with the few things we managed to take with us.”
He has no news of his home, nor of his life before Isis. “I managed to get in touch online with some Muslim friends that are still living in Mosul. They told me they have been forced to follow the rules imposed by Daesh (Arabic acronym for Islamic State, ed.’s note), grow a beard and wear tunics. They said their life has changed. Some of them would like to escape but it’s not possible, it’s too dangerous.” Naeel is waiting for a visa to leave Jordan: “the US, Australia, are my chosen destinations” he said, but he also admitted: “I would be happy to go to any safe, stable Country.” This excludes Iraq, his homeland, which appears to have been erased that day in June, one-and-a-half years ago.
“There is no room for Christians in Iraq today. Going back to Mosul is impossible. We had to flee other times in the past, after 2003, with the outbreak of sectarian clashes and the presence of Al Qaeda militia. But we always returned. Now there is no going back.”
It is of little relevance that “the international community has acted too late, that the Iraqi army was dismantled and that now it has returned to fight to reconquer Ramadi”. For Naeel and his family, as for tens of thousands of Christians, time is up. Now he is living in Jordan.
Hoping for a visa. Also Yousif and Yaqoob –Chaldean – and Kamel – Syro-Orthodox – work in the Centre. The first two used to live in small villages in the Ninevah Plains, Kamel lived in Mosul. They are all married and have small children. They don’t live at the Centre because thanks to Caritas they could access a small, low-rent apartment in Amman, and work at “Our Lady of Peace.” They used to be carpenters in Iraq and they decided to continue their profession in Jordan. In the Centre they had the opportunity of setting up a small carpentry. A few months ago they started manufacturing boxes for fine wine bottles, wooden composters and handcrafted items which they then sell. “We fled because Daesh kills Christians”, they all said, mimicking the gesture of throat-cutting. “We have small children. They would have had no future in Iraq. Here, although we are not in our homes, we feel safe. Our children can go to school and Caritas helps us with everything. We wish we could work more, but we keep going.” They too repose their hopes in a visa. “We hope to go to North America, where some of our relatives have emigrated.” Amina, 75, from Mosul, also hopes to live in America. In the flight from her hometown she left behind four members of her family. They were are killed. She is standing on line with her husband for her charity package: a halogen heater, blankets and some groceries. “My city is just a distant memory – she said with resignation – my daughter is now my only living relative. She lives in the US where she went before the outbreak of the tragedy of Daesh. I am a Christian Orthodox and they would have killed me if I had not converted to Islam. But I would not give up my faith so I ran away”, she concluded with a smile. Iraqi families keep arriving: the Chaldean vicariate of Amman estimates that in the last month at least 50 families have arrived from the refugee camps in Erbil (Iraqi Kurdistan). Even by their own procedure: visa application to the US, Canada or Australia, home to large Chaldean communities and a long wait time – without being able to do anything – to obtain it. Time goes by waiting to be called.
Children’s toys. While adults take their charity packs, the large hall of the Centre becomes filled with children. They received a parcel with a toy. However, they appear to prefer an old football. They run and play with it noisily, and so do the little girls. There did not split up into opposing teams. A Caritas volunteer tells them to keep quiet. Bashar, the volunteer, told us that almost all the children have been living here for the past year, some of them arrived even earlier. “They seem to be untroubled, although they keep asking us when they will be able to go back to their toys and their homes in Iraq. It’s hard to answer that question.” The volunteer worker gives them back the ball and they return to play. They are unworried, not knowing until when.