19 October 2016
Basima Kamil, right, a refugee from Iraq who teaches at the Don Bosco Youth Center in Istanbul, spends time during a break on 3 October at the school office and teacher's room with colleagues, Wafa Toma and Dina Jouna. Kamil has been in Turkey since December 2012, waiting for an answer to her relocation application to Canada. (photo: CNS/Oscar Durand)
Yako Hanna, 36, always keeps an eye on his phone waiting for a call that would change his life.
“Anytime it rings, you think it is the U.N., so you have to be careful. Even if you go to the bathroom, you have to take your mobile with you,” Hanna said, referring to the call he might receive from the U.N. refugee agency, UNHCR, which is handling his resettlement application to Australia, where he has relatives.
Hanna is one of the thousands of Iraqi Christians that are in Turkey waiting, from a few months to a few years, for an answer to their resettlement applications to Western countries. They are waiting for an appointment or a visa, a document that will allow them to restart their lives in a new country. And not knowing when that will happen is leading them to live a life in limbo.
Hanna grew up in a Chaldean Catholic family in the al-Dora district of Baghdad. The memories from his childhood include summer picnics, soccer games and other activities organized by his neighborhood church, St. Jacob.
Starting in 2004, car bombs, killings and attacks on Christians in Iraq become common. In 2007, St. Jacob — the church Hanna had attended for 22 years — was attacked, marking the beginning of his odyssey. He moved to a safer neighborhood in Baghdad and, when the situation worsened there as well, he fled to Tel Kaif in northern Iraq, just north of Mosul. In 2014, the Islamic State group attacked the town, and Hanna fled to Turkey.
Once in Turkey, Hanna registered with UNHCR and the Turkish government. Under Turkish law, only asylum seekers from Europe qualify for refugee status. Iraqis are eligible to receive what is called an “international protection” status, which allows them to stay in Turkey as they wait for resettlement to a third country.
Being resettled is not easy or quick.
According to UNHCR, in 2015, there were more than 7,500 people resettled out of Turkey; more than 6,400 were from countries other than Syria. Turkey hosts more than 3 million refugees; about 400,000 are non-Syrians. Although the exact number of Iraqi Christians in Turkey is unknown, it is estimated that there are at least 40,000.
For Hanna, the process to officially become a refugee and seek resettlement involved paperwork, travel and multiple interviews. His file was finally completed July 21, two years after he landed in Turkey.
“The first year was the worst year of my life. My future was unknown. What would I do for work? What would happen when I face a problem here? So many strange thoughts. I cried many times. I had to start not from zero but from under zero,” Hanna said.
He said he hopes that the next time the phone rings, it is a call with a positive answer to his case.
“I think it will be no less than six months. If they told me four months, it would be a miracle. I cannot guess,” he said.
Meanwhile, Hanna has found a temporary home with the Iraqi Catholic community in Istanbul. He keeps busy teaching English to refugee children, mostly from Iraq and Syria, at the Don Bosco Youth Center in Istanbul. Most of the other instructors are also from Iraq.
Basima Kamil, 42, also teaches English at the center. She is from Baghdad and has lived in Istanbul with her husband and four children since December 2012. With violence and threats toward Christians all around them, they felt they had no other option but to leave Iraq.
Once in Istanbul, Kamil and her family followed the resettlement process that is known to the Iraqi refugee community. Their first interview with UNHCR was in September 2014, almost two years after they landed in Istanbul.
When they met with Canadian officials, Kamil felt closer to her dream of finding a safe home for her family. After that interview in October 2015, Kamil was told that the next time she would be contacted, it would be for her to move to Canada.
“And since then, we are waiting,” Kamil said.
Kamil worries about her children’s education. They are between 15 and 22 and she believes that, as years pass by, so do their opportunities.
“I worry about their studies. I want them to continue studying, but I am afraid that they won’t,” Kamil said.
Kamil said she is determined to continue moving ahead, even if her application is denied.
“I cannot go back to Iraq. Now there are even fewer Christians. And I have daughters, it is more difficult for them,” Kamil said.
Hanna also said he does not contemplate giving up if his resettlement application is rejected. But in the meantime, he is wasting no time. While not teaching at the Don Bosco Youth Center, he is taking Turkish lessons and is looking for a school to learn to become a barber.
“The more difficult thing is keep waiting and postponing your dreams. Until when? You don’t know. But day by day, you get used to,” Hanna said.
19 October 2016
In this image from 2015, worshipers pray at Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in Suez, one of the churches attacked in Egypt after the political upheaval there in 2013. To learn about the efforts to rebuild, read Out of the Ashes from the Spring 2015 edition of ONE.
(photo: David Degner)
19 October 2016
Peshmerga forces advance 18 October to attack Islamic State militants in Mosul, Iraq.
(photo: CNS/Thaier Al-Sudani, Reuters)
Iraqi forces closing in on Mosul (CNN) The Iraqi army’s armored division is closing in on Mosul’s fringes after sweeping through enemy-controlled land in the past 48 hours, liberating communities village by village, the division’s commander told CNN Wednesday, as the operation to liberate Mosul from the brutal grip of ISIS militants intensifies...
Report: thousands have fled Mosul ahead of offensive (Voice of America) Save The Children said Wednesday thousands of people have fled the Mosul area in order to escape an offensive by Iraqi and Kurdish forces to retake the city from Islamic State militants. The aid group said about 5,000 people have arrived at a refugee camp in Syria during the past 10 days and that it is at risk of being overwhelmed as more people come. “These families arrive with nothing but the clothes on their backs and find almost nothing to help them,” said Tarik Kadir, who heads the group’s Mosul response...
Displaced Christians celebrate as Iraq forces near Mosul (AFP) Hundreds of displaced Iraqi Christians danced and sang to celebrate an Iraqi military operation to retake their community’s main hub of Qaraqosh from jihadists. Iraqi Christian men, women and children — some of them holding candles — gathered at Mar Shimon church in the Kurdish capital of Arbil to pray and celebrate, an AFP correspondent reported on Tuesday. Iraqi federal forces on Tuesday moved deep into Qaraqosh, a town that lies around 15 kilometres (10 miles) southeast of Mosul and was seized by the Islamic State jihadist group in August 2014. “Today is a happy moment. There is no doubt our land will be liberated and we thank God, Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary,” said Hazem Djedjou Cardomi, a journalist among the crowd...
Pope Francis: access to food, water is a basic human right (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis on Wednesday said access to food and water is a basic human right, and called on believers and people of good will everywhere to take personal responsibility for the needs of their neighbors...
Bishops meet to discuss pastoral care of Eastern Catholic migrants (Vatican Radio) Bishops of the Catholic Eastern Rite Churches in Europe are meeting in Portugal from 20-23 October to discuss the challenge of the pastoral care of Eastern Catholic migrants in Western European nations, especially the preservation of their cultural and ecclesial identity...
Russia opens new church in Paris (AP) Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo has attended a ceremony to inaugurate a Russian Orthodox church and cultural center next to the Eiffel Tower. Russian President Vladimir Putin had planned to attend Wednesday’s ceremony at the Russian Orthodox Spiritual and Cultural Center but postponed his visit to Paris due to diplomatic tensions between Russia and France over the war in Syria. The complex, including the Holy Trinity Cathedral, has been built on the site of the former headquarters of France’s national weather forecasting services, near the Seine River...
18 October 2016
Ivlita Kuchaidze survived famine, war and political upheaval in Georgia— but has held on to hope in spite of every imaginable hardship. (photo: Molly Corso)
Some of most memorable people we have encountered over the years have been not only heroes, but survivors.
One of those is Ivlita Kuchaidze, whose indomitable spirit and engaging smile mask a life of exceptional challenges:
Ivlita Kuchaidze survived famine, World War II, the Cold War, the Georgian civil war and the country’s turbulent early years of independence. But, at 93, she may be facing her hardest challenge yet: Along with an estimated 400,000 other Georgian citizens, Ms. Kuchaidze endures a life of abject poverty.
After decades spent caring for others, Ms. Kuchaidze has become one of the thousands of pensioners who must depend on charity to survive.
“How do I live right now? In the cold. Hungry. Everything has gotten so expensive,” she says.
“I am used to it,” Ms. Kuchaidze adds. “I grew up half hungry. It is harder for people who used to live well.”
...Hers is the story of so many Georgians of her generation — defined, in large part, by jagged contours of the rise and fall of the Soviet Union. It is the story of perseverance in the face of oppression, of holding on to hope in spite of every imaginable hardship. It is a story of longing and loss.
It is also a story of a heroic woman who never let life defeat her, despite all her difficulties. “Thank God for what I have,” she told writer Molly Corso. “Whatever I have, it is enough.”
Read more about her remarkable life here.
CNEWA is privileged to work with Caritas in helping to support “new orphans” like Ivlita Kuchaidze, people who once lived a secure and comfortable life but who now find themselves forgotten or alone — yet still holding fast to their dignity, uplifted by the faith that sustains them.
To learn how you can remember those others have forgotten, visit this link.
18 October 2016
Lebanese army soldiers stand on an armored truck next to a church during a patrol after bombings in late June in Qaa. When a series of bombs exploded in the Lebanese Christian village near the Syrian border, it not only changed the lives of the victims and their families, but also the lives of Syrian refugees living nearby. (photo: CNS/EPA)
When a series of bombs exploded in a Lebanese Christian village near the Syrian border in June, it not only changed the lives of the victims and their families, but also the lives of Syrian refugees living nearby.
In a government effort to prevent any future attacks, a Lebanese town that was once a lifeline for Syrians for education, activities and friendships has now been cut off from the local Syrian community.
“Before the bombings, we had nearly 350 Syrian children coming to our center every day for classes and activities,” said Father Elian Nasrallah, a priest at St. Elias Melkite Catholic Church, located just footsteps from the attacks three months ago. Before that, the community center hosted both Syrian and Lebanese children, who learned and played together and celebrated one another’s holidays. The priest said they will reopen the center later in October, even under high security and tensions.
Although tourism is slowly returning to the area, with Lebanese from different parts of the country visiting for hunting trips and barbecues, tensions remain between the Lebanese government tasked with protecting its citizens and an increasingly frustrated Syrian refugee community that feels stifled by suspicion restrictions.
“We’re not in a normal situation. What happened was very hard. We need to think about the martyrs and their families,” the priest said.
Four suicide bombers hit the town square of Qaa in two separate incidents 27 June, killing themselves and five residents and wounding more than 30 others. It shook up the relatively quiet frontier area, highlighting its vulnerability as bordering a part of Syria controlled by the Islamic State group. Since then, the area’s growing Syrian refugee community of around 30,000 has been under tight security. Hundreds have been arrested on suspicion of having connections to the attacks, and the residents of the agricultural area called Qaa Projects, which has become a vast informal tented settlement, now require government permission to leave the area.
On a recent Sunday, Fawza Ibrahim Ali was in Qaa, having gotten permission through Father Nasrallah to visit. She needed medicine and respite from her life at the makeshift camp, where families of 10 share tents, and where the past three months have meant isolation and uncertainty.
“We’re now doing nothing,” she said, sitting on the balcony of the priest’s home, which he suggested so that she would not arouse suspicion in a more public space like an outdoor cafe. Describing her daily life, she said, “I get up in my tent, I get cleaned and get dressed, I do my housework, and I sit for the rest of the day. There’s nowhere to go.”
With no end in sight, she dreams of returning to Raqqa, the Syrian capital of Islamic State’s self-proclaimed caliphate. Ali remembers better days there: neighbors visiting one another, children playing outdoors and going to school, and women wearing colorful clothing — unlike the full black niqab they’re now required to wear — and walking through the city at all hours. It’s where she met her husband, and where her oldest daughter, now 20, earned her bachelor’s degree at age 16.
“I want to return to Raqqa,” she said. After pausing briefly, she added, “I know it’s impossible.”
“If you saw Raqqa, you wouldn’t recognize it anymore. It’s over.”
Ali hopes for a better situation between the Syrian refugees and the residents of Qaa, in which they would be able to once again visit one another freely.
“They used to come to our tents for tea. Now, we don’t get any visitors.” She emphasized that she is grateful for the medical and emergency care that she and other refugees in Qaa Projects receive from the United Nations and the Lebanese Red Cross. But they’ll need more than the essentials to heal their isolation and stagnation.
The first step to getting things back to relative normality will be reopening the community center for children, which offers classes and activities; for many, it is the closest thing they’ve had to a school since they arrived in Lebanon.
Fortunately for the children, they don’t need government permission to move around. But they might need to feel welcome, after three months of tight security.
“It will be hard to convince the kids to come back,” said Father Nasrallah. “But we’ll try again. Life has to go on.”
18 October 2016
In the video above, the leader of a Caritas humanitarian program in Jordan describes who some Christian refugees from Iraq and Syria have experienced. Iraqi soldiers are battling to retake from ISIS the city of Mosul. (video: Rome Reports)
Aid groups brace for civilian casualties from battle for Mosul (NPR) The battle for the ISIS-held city of Mosul, now in its second day, is expected to drag on for weeks or months. As Kurdish and Iraqi forces approach the city, aid groups in the region are preparing for a humanitarian crisis...
Ethiopian bishops call for dialogue (Vatican Radio) About 60 percent of Ethiopia’s population has been involved in protest and civil unrest for the past year. The Ahmara and Omoro are the two largest ethnic groups in the nation and are also the majority of the protesters. International entities such as the United Nations and European Union have called for government intervention. The Bishops of the Catholic Church of Ethiopia are calling for action...
Cardinal speaks out against religious intolerance (Fides) prominent Asian Cardinal has hit out against religious intolerance in his home nation, calling it a “poison for society.” Cardinal Charles Maung Bo, the Archbishop of Yangon, Myanmar, sent the strongly worded message to the “Fides” Agency, which held an event on Saturday to mark the launch of a book entitled “On the Brink” which examines the realities of life for religious minorities in Asian countries...
Leaders worry about ISIS threat to Kerala Christians (UCANews) Media reports that terrorists connected to the so-called Islamic State (IS) plan to target Syrian Christians in Kerala is causing concerns for religious leaders in the southern Indian state. The Times of India daily recently reported that Kerala police have busted an IS-inspired cell. Interrogations reportedly revealed that the Islamic militant outfit was targeting churches and institutions run by “a denomination of Christians of Syrian lineage.”
Cardinal Sandri visits Mt. Nebo (Vatican Radio) The Prefect of the Congregation for Eastern Churches, Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, was in Jordan over the weekend, where he presided over a liturgy celebrating the official re-opening of the shrine atop Mt. Nebo...
17 October 2016
In this image from April, a woman prepares tea in a camp for internally displaced families in Ain Kawa, near Erbil, Iraq. Residents of the camp were displaced from Mosul and other communities in Iraq when ISIS swept through the area in 2014. On 17 October 2016, a battle began to retake Mosul from ISIS — sparking both hope and concern among displaced Iraqis.
(photo: CNS/Paul Jeffrey)
Iraqi Christians are cautiously welcoming the start of the battle for Mosul and the Ninevah Plain, their ancestral homeland of the past 14 centuries from which they were brutally driven out by the Islamic State group more than two years ago.
“They’ve been waiting for this day after being forced out in the summer of 2014, and many Christians have been living in very miserable conditions since. A number are eager to go back,” Father Emanuel Youkhana told the Catholic News Service. The archimandrite, a member of the Assyrian Church of the East, heads the Christian Aid Program Northern Iraq, CAPNI.
“Of course the military operation is just the first of several phases paving the way for their return. They will need security and other guarantees before they go back,” Father Youkhana said. “Also much reconstruction and rehabilitation of the region occupied the Islamic State militants will need to take place.”
This summer, the U.N. said that as the Mosul crisis evolves, up to 13 million people throughout Iraq may need humanitarian aid by the year’s end — far larger than the Syrian crisis. This would make the humanitarian operation in Mosul likely the single largest, most complex in the world in 2016.
Chaldean Catholic Archbishop Yousif Thomas Mirkis of Kirkuk, Iraq, told CNS Iraqi Christians view these operations “with hope and fear.”
“Everything is complicated. Still, we are waiting for what will happen after Daesh (the Arabic slang name for Islamic State), because maybe those criminals will be thrown out of Iraq, but the mentality remains in those who welcomed them,” Archbishop Mirkis said. “So how do we heal the country from this kind of fanaticism, which is very deep in society?”
The Kirkuk Archdiocese has taken in and ministered to hundreds of Iraqi Christians displaced by the brutal attacks of the Islamic State militants, who demanded Mosul residents leave their homes and businesses, convert to Islam or be killed.
Prior to the Iraqi military’s capitulation to a small group of Islamic State fighters in 2014, Mosul was inhabited by more than 2 million people. It’s believed that only about 1 million residents remain today. Some 130,000 have fled to other areas within Iraq, such as Kirkuk or Kurdistan. Thousands of others are being housed in neighboring countries, such as Jordan and Lebanon, while perhaps hundreds have been resettled or are awaiting resettlement in the U.S., Australia and Canada. Some live in cramped conditions in church basements. Caritas and other Catholic organizations have been working to help them.
International humanitarian organizations are warning that Iraqis, mainly Sunni Muslims, left in Mosul are “now in grave danger.” The Norwegian Refugee Council, Save the Children and others are urging the establishment of safe exit routes for civilians to flee the city.
“Unless safe routes to escape the fighting are established, many families will have no choice but to stay and risk being killed by crossfire or bombardment, trapped beyond the reach of humanitarian aid with little food or medical care,” said Aram Shakaram, Save the Children’s deputy country director in Iraq.
“Those that try to flee will be forced to navigate a city ringed with booby traps, snipers and hidden land mines. Without immediate action to ensure people can flee safely, we are likely to see bloodshed of civilians on a massive scale,” Shakaram warned.
The humanitarian groups criticize instructions from Iraq’s military urging inhabitants to hunker down inside their homes.
At best, this is impractical in a brutal urban conflict, the groups say. At worst, it risks civilian buildings being turned into military positions and families being used as human shields, they argue.
But even if people do manage to flee, they also face some uncertainty. Although aid agencies have been preparing for months, observers believe camps for the internally displaced are ready for perhaps some 60,000 people, and these camps could be overwhelmed within days.
The U.N. Office of the Coordinator for Humanitarian Affairs reported it is locating additional land for extra camps to be set up. It reported that construction of additional sites, with capacity for 250,000 people, is underway. Food rations for 220,000 families are ready for distribution, 143,000 sets of emergency household items are in stock; latrines and showers are being readied for dispatch and 240 tons of medication are available at distribution points. But funding toward a flash appeal has been insufficient to prepare fully for the worst-case scenario.
Even if the operation rids the area of Islamic State, Archbishop Mirkis said a number of Christians have serious concerns about returning home without iron-clad guarantees for their future safety.
“Who can give such assurances? Maybe the big countries. But those who suffered the most are the Yezidis. The Yezidis and all the minorities face the same problem. How can we have peace with neighbors who looted our houses?” he asked.
He also expressed concerned for civilians inside Mosul.
“All those children, elderly and civilians are caught like in a prison. We have to think about them too. We have to read the book of Jonah. It can explain many things to us,” the Catholic Chaldean leader said.
17 October 2016
Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga fighters deploy on the top of Mount Zardak, about 15 miles east of Mosul, as they take part in an operation against ISIS on 17 October 2016.
(photo: Safin Hamed/AFP/Getty Images)
Battle for Mosul begins (CNN) Iraq’s military says it has inflicted “heavy losses of life and equipment” on ISIS in a district southeast of Mosul, as Iraqi-led forces close in on the city in the long-awaited battle to recapture it from the terror group. Hours after Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced the beginning of the offensive, Iraq’s military said it had inflicted losses and made advances in the Hamdaniya district...
UN fears 100,000 may flee Mosul for Syria, Turkey (Reuters) Up to 100,000 Iraqis may flee to Syria and Turkey to escape the Iraqi government’s military assault aimed at ousting Islamic State from the northern city of Mosul, the United Nations refugee agency said on Monday. The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) issued an appeal for an additional $61 million to provide tents, camps, winter items and stoves for displaced inside Iraq and new refugees needing shelter in the two neighboring countries...
Egypt re-opens border crossing to Gaza (UPI) Egypt announced it temporarily reopened the Rafah crossing for two days to allow Palestinians to enter or leave the Gaza Strip, and plans to do so a second time later this week. The Egyptian government reopened the Rafah crossing on the south side of the Gaza Strip to allow students, people with work permits and humanitarian cases to enter or leave for two days and will do so for four more days later this week...
Finding refuge: Vetting refugees at a Jordanian camp (CBS News) A majority of U.S. governors have called for a halt to the refugee program too. The Syrians who are finding refuge in the U.S. now find themselves at the center of a heated debate, pitting our American tradition of altruism against our fear of terrorism. We wanted to see for ourselves who these refugees are, and what is the vetting process...
Patriarch Kirill consecrates cathedral in London (RT) Hundreds of people including the Archbishop of Canterbury and Prince Michael of Kent gathered in London’s Cathedral of the Dormition of the Mother of God and All Saints to attend a historic service conducted by the head of Russia’s Orthodox Church. Up to one thousand people attended the ceremonies on Sunday, according to the patriarch’s press service. The service included the consecration of London’s largest Orthodox Christian Cathedral, which had undergone a major refurbishment, and the Divine Liturgy, commemorating the 300th anniversary of the presence of the Russian Orthodox Church in the British Isles...
14 October 2016
The Very Rev. Brian F. Terry, S.A. presents CNEWA’s president, Msgr. John Kozar, with the Sharing Hope Award.
(photo: Franciscan Friars of the Atonement)
One week ago, in the storied ballroom of The Pierre in New York City, the Franciscan Friars of the Atonement honored Catholic Near East Welfare Association with The Graymoor Sharing Hope Award at the friars’ annual Sharing Hope Celebration Dinner. Hundreds of guests packed the room as the Very Rev. Brian F. Terry, S.A., minister general, cited CNEWA’s “outstanding and steadfast work in serving our Lord by helping suffering people throughout the Middle East, Northeast Africa, India and Eastern Europe. ...
“CNEWA provides an inspiration of hope echoing the friars’ charism ‘to unite what has fallen apart, and to bring home those who have lost their way.’ ”
After thanking the minister general for his thoughtful and generous gesture, CNEWA’s president, Msgr. John Kozar, reminded the guests that the friars and CNEWA “share the same DNA, as we together carry forward the legacy of Father Paul [Wattson], who shared in the founding of CNEWA some 90 years ago.”
It was a fitting occasion for the friars and the CNEWA family, as members of the church gathered together to honor the legacy of the servant of God, Father Paul of Graymoor, who was among the first to respond to help the sufferings of Christians in the Middle East in the early 20th century.
14 October 2016
Father Yousif Haddad collects medicine from a storage unit outside his parish church in Zakho. (photo: Raed Rafei)
The displaced people of Iraq are fortunate to have a a hero like the Rev. Yousif Jamil Haddad, who saw a particular problem and came up with a novel solution, a mobile clinic to serve thousands in far-flung villages in Iraqi Kurdistan:
Funded by CNEWA, the mobile clinic is an initiative of the Rev. Yousif Jamil Haddad, the pastor of the Virgin Mary Syriac Catholic Church in Zakho, a bustling city close to Turkey and a commercial hub for the export of oil from Kurdistan.
“Many refugees are staying in poor, remote villages where they have no access to medical care,” says Father Haddad, explaining the motivations behind the project that began its operations last June.
Today, the mobile clinic visits 22 villages scattered throughout the hilly northern edges of Kurdistan, serving a population of roughly 15,000 internally displaced Christian, Muslim and Yazidi families. Staffed by a doctor, a pharmacist, an administrator and a driver, the van departs from Zakho around 9 a.m., five days a week. Each morning, the van is loaded with supplies stored on the premises of the Syriac Catholic parish. It then makes its way to one or two villages where, typically, the clinic’s doctor provides medical consultation to some 140 patients.
This young priest is committed to his community and their struggles, as journalist Raed Rafei noted when he interviewed Father Haddad:
For four days, Father Haddad, the mastermind behind the mobile clinic that I was reporting on, invited me many times for meals and tea to meet with displaced Christians from his community and discuss practical matters pertaining to refugee life as well as historical information on the Christian presence in the region. I was touched to see that he shared the rectory with displaced families. He seemed happy to see the place buzzing with the voices of children playing. He told me that when the refugees first arrived, he had to accommodate the men inside the Church and the women and children in a hall annexed to it. This situation lasted for several days before families could be relocated to rented apartments.
After a year and a half of displacement, Father Haddad understood that what his community really needs is not just assistance with food and medicine but hope for the future.
The mobile clinic helps provide that hope. You can see a video the clinic in action below.