by the Rev. Canon Andrew White
|Imagine for a moment that you are an Iraqi Christian, born in Baghdad on January 1st 2000. What would your life have been like?
Days after your third birthday, you hear Saddam Hussein on the radio telling you to “draw your sword” against America, a country you have never visited. Months later, you shake with fear as bombs rain down on your neighbourhood, flattening the houses around you and killing the people inside.
Months after your fifth birthday, following a general election, you witness Shia militias loyal to the new government executing innocent Sunnis in the street outside your house. Or perhaps it is Sunnis loyal to al-Qaeda that are executing innocent Shia. Either way, both groups hate you for being an “infidel” and you cannot leave your house even to go to school.
Shortly after your sixth birthday, as civil war erupts in the capital, your parents take you to Mosul in the north of the country hoping to find safety. After two years of relative peace, thousands of your fellow Christians flee the city following a wave of murders, abductions and threats. You survive this pogrom through luck, always looking over your shoulder and never revealing your faith to strangers.
In the summer of your fourteenth birthday, you see a convoy of armed men dressed in black driving through the city. Some people are cheering them on; others are running home in terror. In the weeks that follow, you hear that Christians have been crucified in the streets. At night, you hear your name being called out on the loudspeaker telling you to register with the new authority. If you don’t, there will be consequences.
After days of hiding in your home and with supplies running low, your father decides to register your family. Terrible rumors have reached your door that those who don’t are tortured in houses with blacked-out windows. But if you register and pay the Jizya (tax), you will be safe. After two days and no news, a frightened neighbor whispers through your door that your father has been executed.
The next day, armed men burst into your house and drag your mother away. You never see her again. Crawling from your hiding place, you gather the last bottle of water and some food and head off, in the dead of night, hoping to reach safety. After three days dodging checkpoints, and delirious with dehydration, you make it to Kurdish-controlled territory and safety. Or maybe you don’t.
While the above account is hypothetical, it reflects the experiences which Iraqi refugees and IDPs in our care have reported living through. It is only by fortune of birth that we are not them. Iraqi refugees, such as the 500 Christian families we are helping in Jordan, have suffered for years, trapped amid an endless cycle of violence.
Since the battle for Mosul began last month, the UN estimates that 70,000 civilians have fled the city. Many of these people have spent two years living under the tyranny of ISIS and have risked their lives to reach safety.
Approximately 30,000 people live in Debaga Camp south of Erbil, which is now one of the biggest IDP camps in Northern Iraq. Those who make it there have walked across mine-strewn battlefields and roads, and are often in a state of semi-starvation when they arrive.
At Khazir, an IDP camp on the outskirts of Mosul, many of those who arrive at the camp haven’t eaten or drunk anything in days. Many arrive without winter clothes or shoes. The weather is starting to get worse in the region, with sub-zero temperatures possible.
This Christmas, we ask that you make a donation to help the displaced and the dispossessed of Iraq. It is not just Christians that are suffering, but people of all faiths.
Canon White is known as the vicar of Baghdad