Benoite Martin, coordinator van het PAX-project Kulluna Muwatinun (“Wij zijn allen burgers”) is momenteel in Noord-Irak. In deze blog (Engels) beschrijft ze de situatie van de vluchtelingen uit Qaraqosh, een overwegend christelijke plaats tussen Erbil en Mosoel.
Benoite Martin, coordinator of PAX-project Kulluna Muwatinun (“We are all citizens”) is currently in the North of Iraq. In this blog she describes the situation of the refugees from Qaraqosh, a predominantly christian town between Erbil and Mosul.
Escaping Qaraqosh and living in Einkawa
Qaraqosh is a town located half way between Erbil and Mosul which hosts a majority of Christians.
On August 4th at night, people from Qaraqosh were alerted when peshmerga forces nearby launched attacks on combatants of the Islamic State settled 10km away. As shelling was getting intensive, families decided to leave their house in the middle of the night. What they feared most was the possibility that Islamic combatants would enter the town and kidnap the women, exactly like they had done a few days before that in Yezidi villages.
From 2am until the early morning, families escaped, leaving their homes and belongings behind, without having time to even gather some clothes or take important documents with them.
Since the start of June, it is the third time that families are escaping Qaraqosh. They thought they were fleeing for only a day or two, like the previous times. But this time was different. Peshmerga forces quickly overwhelmed withdrew, and left the control of the town to the IS.
The IS flag is now flying over the hospital of Qaraqosh at the entrance of the town.
Three weeks later, life in the Christian district of Einkawa in Erbil is buzzing. The population has doubled with the arrival of the displaced families. Families have settled in churches and gardens and local churches along humanitarian organizations are doing a wonderful job to make sure everyone is appropriately fed and healthy. Four large kitchens across the district are run by volunteers who provide 2 meals a day while medical tents set up in the streets provide free consultations and medications to the population. As churches are full, religious services are held in the football stadium.
Although families are now safe in Erbil, a gloomy atmosphere runs around Einkawa as old and young are suffering from sadness, tiredness and depression. With nothing to do than recalling the events and waiting for an unknown future: how will it be possible to go back? When will it be possible to return?
The Islamic State has ravaged the village. Each single house is systematically looted and what cannot go through the doors is smashed on the spot. New reports even share that doors of houses and water tanks have been taken down. The looters have the perverse habit to search for documents inside houses in order to phone the owners and provide details about the visit they have conducted in their house.
More than the displacement in itself, it is the loss of memories and belongings that devastates the population.
As time goes by, the Christian families realize that it will be more and more difficult to go back to their hometown. Even if the Kurdish forces will be able to combat the IS and free the area, they fear about living side by side with neighbors in which they have lost trust. Leaving Iraq for good seems the best option for many.
Last Saturday, as the decision was issued that it would be possible for Christians to apply for passports in a new office in Einkawa, the place was mobbed by thousands who have already made their choice.