They were all around 75 years old. One could not talk at all. They were left behind as they could not even walk, let alone run from ISIS. One told his family to leave, as he could not make the trip from Mosul to Erbil. So they left him in Mosul. Even those families that thought they could leave with their cars, money, and passports were caught at the checkpoint. Everything was taken from them and then they were pushed out in the direction of the north to walk with nothing but the clothes on their backs to Erbil.
ISIS then came for the ten elderly Christians and took them to the Iraqi governor, who is a Muslim. Later, ISIS returned and took them to an area between ISIS and Peshmerga territory. This is a no-man’s land in the desert where hundreds of families are caught between the opposing sides.
Out of the blue, I received a call from an unknown number and was told there is a Christian man who wants to talk to me. He remembered me from Mosul, where I used to live. He told me that they were the desert between Kirkuk and Mosul – the point between Peshmerga and ISIS check points. He said that ISIS had left them in the desert with a huge number of Muslim and Shabak families. Since the Peshmerga had closed the border checkpoint, they weren’t being allowed to come through into Kurdish Territory. It was 5pm in the winter with cold, rainy conditions.
I called the Chaldean Catholic Bishop in Kirkuk to see if we could help the ten old men. The Bishop checked and said yes, but this was a very difficult situation in a very dangerous area where no one can enter or leave. He checked with the governor of Kirkuk and he said it would be too dangerous to try and help them as there was a risk ISIS wanted the Peshmerga to attempt to recue the Christians so their snipers could shoot them. That, or ISIS may also have wanted to enter with the old men when they opened the border to let them through. For three very bad days the old people had no food or water in this no man’s land. I tried relentlessly to help them calling people every hour to see if they could do something.
Eventually, the Peshmerga agreed to enter with a car under cover of darkness at 1am to find the Christians among hundreds of desperate IDPs fleeing ISIS. They pulled them into a pick up, drove them to a church in Kirkuk and from there to Ankawa in Kurdistan.
I arranged medical attention and lodging for them while trying to work out what to do with them next. I hired a Christian IDP to help clean and bathe the old men every day. We bought clothes for them and provided food.
We found out that while some had relatives, three did not have any family. One of them could not speak at all from the trauma of the experience.
Then I remembered the Shai Fund.
I called them and asked if the Shai Fund would provide the funds for a prefabricated unit (called a caravan in Ankawa) as all the homes for elderly in were full. We found a home with garden and they agreed that we use the space for a caravan. We built it in such a way to have a door that leads directly to the old home, like another room. They are able to join the rest of their community and go in and out as if their room is just another part of the center.
I thank the Shai Fund for giving these dear old Christians a place to live in their time need.
By Remon Lazkeen, a displaced Iraqi Christian from Mosul