“We have lost everything; our homes have been stolen, looted, destroyed, and burned. There is nothing left for us there, to return for,” said Walaa Lewis, an Iraqi Christian who, along with thousands of other Christians, fled to Jordan from near Mosul, Iraq, after ISIS captured the area in 2014.
Walaa told Providence, “Although the Iraqi government forces have restored the area and expelled the terrorist organization from it, I do not think of returning to Iraq, as the organization burned my house and everything I owned in Iraq, and I no longer feel safe there.”
Walaa—who attends Sunday mass in Amman, Jordan, along with dozens of other Iraqi Christians—confirmed that Iraqis dream of a better future far from Iraq, the land of their ancestors. They lost everything in it, including their sense of safety.
Walaa said that she has submitted an asylum application to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees for resettlement in any country that is safe for her three children.
Walaa remembered, with a sigh, the difficult circumstances she went through with her family. They spent three nights in public parks and churches in Erbil, Iraq, before arriving in Amman a few years ago.
Despite the defeat of ISIS, some Christian refugees do not think about returning to Iraq because they feel insecure, especially since militias affiliated with Iran there have a sectarian tendency against all those who are not Shiites or loyal to Iran.
As for Amal Salman, a 43-year-old mother of four, she dreams of building a “new life” with her family, she said, after the suffering she went through in Iraq.
“The extremists stole our house, destroyed it, and burned it, and they also did that to my husband’s food store. So we decided to pack our things and come to Jordan, hoping to start a new life,” she explained.
She continued, “After the intensification of sectarian violence years ago, we received death threats, so we fled from Baghdad to Mosul. And there also, after years, we received death threats, so we fled to the Christian village of ‘Kalamless,’ north of Mosul, until ISIS came to us. So we fled to Erbil later.”
“We cannot go back. Our cities are destroyed; we have lost everything. There is nothing to go back to,” she said.
“Education is necessary for these children, who were forced to flee their country,” Issa Haddad, a pastor at a Baptist church in Amman, Jordan, told Providence, noting that “they were victims of violence and persecution from an extremist group that forced them to flee.”
“I feel so happy to see them here, in the church schools, where they seem so happy with the people who take care of them, who give them so much care and love,” he added.
Issa added, “About 10,300 Iraqi Christians have fled to Jordan since the attack launched by ISIS on the areas of Mosul and the Nineveh Plains, in northern Iraq.”
“A proverb says, ‘The first step in liquidating a people is to erase its memory. Destroy its books, its culture, its history. Then have someone write new books, manufacture a new culture, invent a new history. Before long the nation will begin to forget what it is and what it was.’ So we have to work so that all these children take their right to education and life,” said Issa.
He continued, “We suffered financial problems during the last period, but we thank God now, because we got enough money today to continue for the current school year.”
The director of one of the Christian schools in which the refugees study said to Providence, “The church-affiliated school receives about two hundred Iraqi Christian students who fled from Mosul and the Nineveh Plains, whose ages range from 6 to 14 years, who have missed an academic year or more because of war.”
She added, “In the evening they study in English because all of them do not think of returning to Iraq, and they have previously submitted asylum applications,” noting that the school is working to “rehabilitate them for the schools they will attend in the countries of asylum.”
She continued, “They are taught for free, by volunteer Iraqi female teachers, and they are given books, clothes, and a meal, all of which is given to them for free.”
Last December a large decorated Christmas tree was placed in the middle of the celebration hall, and children gathered around it. All of them wore wooden cross necklaces around their necks, prayed in the Syriac language, and chanted for their homeland, which their young minds associated with bad memories, tragedies, and violations of childhood.
After jihadists and Iran-affiliated militias took control of the areas where the Iraqi Christians have lived, many believers had to flee to avoid forced conversions, payment of tribute, exile, or death. For now they would rather stay in Jordan and look for asylum in a safe country instead of returning back to their homeland. Christians in America must not forget about the struggles these brothers and sisters in Christ have suffered and continue to endure because of their faith.