Iraq: Returning home to rebuild a life on the Nineveh Plains
By Mónica Zorita
“Returning home.” “Set foot on our soil again.” “To see the church again that we built ourselves.” “A new beginning.” “Keep going.” “We cannot live our entire lives as displaced persons.” “I do not want to leave my country.” “God is with us.”
These are a few of the thoughts going through the heads of the refugees and displaced persons who are currently living in Erbil but who originally came from the Nineveh plains in Iraq. They see their return to their native towns after the invasion of the terrorist organisation ISIS coming ever closer. Even though the vast majority of the houses were destroyed or burned down, what is most important to them is that these are their own houses. The international pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) is helping to rebuild many of the houses belonging to Christian families. Even though they would have had the opportunity, these families do not want to emigrate to other countries. They insist upon staying in Iraq. Tawfeek Saqat from Qaraqosh is one such example. He worked as a farmer before he was forced to flee. He also ran a small hotel. “I was born in this country. I have spent my entire life here. I do not want to leave. My faith in Jesus gives me the strength to continue living here. Everything that I love is in Qaraqosh: my land, my business, my entire life. I am not going to emigrate so that I can live as an employee in Europe or some other place.” In a video of testimonies produced by Aid to the Church in Need, Tawfeek talks about how he and his family were persecuted for many years. The most harrowing time was, however, when he and his four children were kidnapped by terrorists.
(Please click the play button to watch the short video of Tawfeek Saqat from Qaraqosh)
The young student Rahma Jacon also experienced the apprehension and fear for herself. She remembers what a wonderful and peaceful life they led a few years ago. “I often have to cry when I think about how we lived. I would like to return to the Nineveh plains because that is our homeland, our houses, our church,” she said. She explained that they never thought that their stay in Erbil as displaced persons would last as long as it did. “Our faith gives us the strength to keep going. When times are difficult, I pray so that I am with God.”
(Please click the play button to watch the short video of Rahma Jacob)
Father Thabet Yousif lived in Karemlash, a Christian village that was completely destroyed after the terrorists came through. “We now have three kinds of houses: damaged, burned and completely destroyed houses,” he explained in the video reportage of Aid to the Church in Need. A lot of money is needed to rebuild, but the families have used up their entire savings to live all those years in Kurdistan or other places. “It is our homeland, these are our houses. We cannot keep on living as displaced persons or refugees forever. We want to go back to our village. Our identity is here in the Nineveh plains.”
(Please click the play button to watch the short video of Fr Thabet Yousif of Karemlash)
The mother and grandmother Rahel Ishaq Barber pats herself on the shoulder as she recalls how they built 11 churches and chapels in Qaraqosh themselves. “I was still a child. We sang as we carried the stones for the churches on our shoulders. Our history is there.” Rahel is currently sharing a room in Erbil with eight other people. “It has not been easy. God has helped us a great deal. We thank Him.”
(Please click the play button to watch the short video of Rahel Ishaq Barber)
The Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need has produced five videos with the testimonies of refugees who are about to return home to the Nineveh plains in Iraq. Since 2014, Aid to the Church in Need has been at the forefront with its emergency relief projects, investing more than $40 million in total to assist the work of the Church on the ground in Iraq, in providing rent, education, food and funds for the survival of IDP’s affected by the conflict. Aid to the Church in Need has begun rebuilding the first 100 of the almost 13,000 houses that were destroyed by Islamic State. It is estimated that it will cost more than $(US)250 million dollars to rebuild the Christian houses that Islamic State damaged during their occupation of the region (669 of them are completely destroyed).
(Please click to watch the short video of Sabah Eskarja telling his story of the destruction of his home in Batnaya)
Directly under the Holy See, Aid to the Church in Need supports the faithful wherever they are persecuted, oppressed or in pastoral need. ACN is a Catholic charity – helping to bring Christ to the world through prayer, information and action.
The charity undertakes thousands of projects every year including providing transport for clergy and lay Church workers, construction of church buildings, funding for priests and nuns and help to train seminarians. Since the initiative’s launch in 1979, Aid to the Church in Need’s Child’s Bible – God Speaks to his Children has been translated into 172 languages and 50 million copies have been distributed all over the world.
While ACN gives full permission for the media to freely make use of the charity’s press releases, please acknowledge ACN as the source of stories when using the material.
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