"Your help is so important for our Iraqi brothers", says Father François Yakan
On 1 June 2006 Father Francois Yakan wrote to ACN. "Your help is so vital for our Iraqi brothers, who have fled to Istanbul. These families have been arriving here for years and they have more and more difficulties in finding any small employment in order to supply themselves with the most basic necessities. They have to wait longer and longer for a favourable response from a potential host country. During this long transitional time we have to cope, among other things, with expensive medical care and help with accommodation for those who have been thrown out of their lodgings."
Half of our aid used for education and the family apostolate
"We spent the money that ACN gave us for the year 2005 as follows: 20% was used to welcome the new arrivals, 30% for healthcare costs -- medication and care for those families who had been exhausted by the long flight or fallen ill on the way, for penniless widows, for orphans, for mothers suffering depression and unable to continue caring for their own children, for unemployed fathers, for traumatised people, both young and old, for broken families. The other 50% of the money is spent on education and the family apostolate. All the children aged between seven and 12 given catechetical instruction in Aramaic and Arabic. During 2005 some 27 children received their first Holy Communion. In 2006 another 40 are being prepared for this. Only 22 of these children will make their first Holy Communion in Istanbul, however, for two of them have already returned to Iraq, while the rest will make their first Holy Communion in their new host countries! We have also established a theatre troupe involving 36 young people. For two years they rehearsed texts and stage costumes so that they could perform the Passion of Christ in Aramaic and Arabic. It is the first time they have ever put on such a performance, and it was attended by over a thousand people in the church of St Anthony."
With the help of the Salesians of Don Bosco, who are renowned for their outstanding youth work, schooling is being provided in Aramaic and Arabic for 236 children, aged between 7 and 14. As asylum seekers, these refugee children do not have any right to attend Turkish educational institutions.
One reason for rejoicing -- 12 orphans have finally found a home after seven years!
Father François has so much to do, and yet he continues tirelessly. He tells us, "On Saturdays and Sundays there are baptisms (six so far, from January to June 2006), weddings (eight between January and June 2006) and other pastoral duties to attend to. I am on my own... During the marriage preparation courses I am confronted again and again with the problem of a place to live for the future married couple. Additionally, the cost of pursuing the application process for the refugees has heavily burdened our finances during recent years. Happily though, the results are encouraging. During 2006 I have had the joy of saying goodbye to 12 orphan children who, after seven years in this "transit state", have finally found a new home! Sadly, however, I must add that, despite the chaotic situation in Iraq, many families, after living in poverty and without hope in Istanbul in a transit situation, have afterwards requested to return to their home country. There are 32 families who have returned since 2005... We can only imagine how inwardly torn many of the family members must be, who want to stay while the others definitely want to go. Above all the young people do not want to go back to Iraq... What are they to do in such a situation?"
An appeal to the world community: "We are around 500 Iraqi Chaldean Christian families..."
The Chaldean Catholic Iraqis who are seeking asylum in Turkey addressed to the following appeal to the world community in September 2006: "We are around 500 Iraqi Chaldean Christian families who have fled from Iraq and are now all living temporarily in Turkey as asylum seekers. We have many difficulties and are looking for support so that we can be accepted in another country. Following the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime in 2003 and now that the chaos has taken a stranglehold on the country, many of us have had to flee. From that moment onwards Christians in Iraq have been persecuted for their faith. We have had to fight against death and all forms of persecution and for this reason we have been finally forced to leave Iraq and travel overland legally into Turkey. We were officially registered as refugees."
"We cannot appeal to the local authorities"
"First of all we had problems with the language, and our children were not allowed to attend school. Then we had to endure unworthy living conditions. Additionally, we had no possibility of working legally. There is also no medical care for us and we cannot afford to pay for expensive hospital costs. We cannot appeal to the Turkish police, for we are afraid that they might force us to return to Iraq. For the same reason we cannot appeal to the legal and court authorities locally. On top of this, living costs in Istanbul are very high. There is no aid organisation that is in a position to help us. The psychological trauma of a refusal, for example by the immigration authorities in Australia or the United States, is hard to bear. This refusal is officially justified on the grounds that the UNHCR has allegedly concluded its programme for the refugees from Iraq. For reasons of cost we are also unable to extend our limited residence permits and so we have to live in an illegal situation."
"We are entirely at the mercy of our hosts"
"It is hard for us to obtain any work. And those of us who do manage to get work are usually aged between 15 and 25. The labour of these young people is exploited; they are given the hardest work to do, often over 15 hours a day. They are given a wage that is hardly worthy of the name, for they are foreigners, indeed, refugees even, and cannot complain. The average wage of an Iraqi is between $50 and $75 a week, while that of a Turk is between $200 and $250. Sometimes an employer will simply refuse to pay his Iraqi employee. We are entirely at the mercy of our hosts. On top of this we have to pay rent, which is constantly increased, and if we don't pay, then we are expelled from the apartment by the police."
Father François Yakan, our priest, makes great efforts
"Most of us live in Istanbul, and for the following reasons: there is an Iraqi Chaldean church not far from us. Our priest, Father François Yakan is very kind and makes great efforts to help us, whether with the Turkish authorities or by appealing to other bodies, explaining our problems to them and representing our interests. We thank the Turkish authorities who have been our hosts and hope that our stay in Turkey will be short and that we will find a new home. Please help us to find a host country where we can settle permanently, a country that has humane programmes for migrants! We call on all organisations around the world to help us quickly to obtain legal and humane help so that we can be saved, so that our hopes can become reality and our sufferings come to an end at last!"
This appeal demands a response from us. In the first months of the year 2005 there were no fewer than 86 arrests among the refugees of the Chaldean community, with spells of imprisonment, delays and 23 suicide attempt. The Chaldean Catholic community, which has just seven parishes in villages of eastern Turkey, plus one in Mardin, one in Diarbekir and two in Istanbul, is in no position to help all these people from its own resources, especially since 18 of the already existing families are themselves in need. Without Father Yakan they would be unable to get anywhere. But Father Yakan is now thinking of establishing a foundation for the poorest families, which can concern itself with their needs and with youth work.
The aid which ACN gave in 2005 was much appreciated. In December 2005 Father Yakan wrote to ACN "Thanks to you, dozens of people have been helped to stand up tall again, to live in dignity and have also experienced the joy of being able to celebrate a beautiful Christmas feast together. Many heartfelt thanks, above all to the benefactors of ACN, who understand our plight and share our suffering and who are seeking to ease our burden so that we can help our Christians on the spot." For 2006 ACN has sent Father Yakan €20,000. This will help ease the suffering of these people and enable the children to breathe again a little in the hope of one day finding a decent home.
To help this cause please contact the Sydney office of ACN on (02) 9679-1929. e-mail: email@example.com or write to Aid to the Church in Need PO Box 6245 Blacktown DC NSW 2148. Web: www.aidtochurch.org
Project number: Diarbekir-CLD 06/09;
Project ID: 614549