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Iraqi Christians beginning to die in hot, crowded camps, witnesses say

Iraqi Christian woman

Refugee tragedy: The crisis is worsening for Christian refugees fleeing from Islamic State militants. Photo: CNS/Reuters

IRAQI Christians driven from their homes by Islamic State fighters are beginning to die in crowded camps, witnesses claimed.

Sahar Mansour, 40, who lectured in chemistry at the University of Mosul before she fled the city in June, said new-born babies, the sick and the elderly in the Ankawa refugee camp on the outskirts of Irbil were dying from diseases, thirst and malnutrition.

Ms Mansour now lives in the camp.

The same claim was made by Chaldean Catholic Patriarch Louis Sako of Baghdad, who said in an August 11 statement that “death and sickness are grabbing the children and elderly people among the thousands of refugee families spread over the Kurdistan region”.

The patriarch also criticised the terms of United States military intervention because it does not aim to recapture Christian cities and towns taken by the extremists.

Ms Mansour told Catholic News Service in an August 11 email that the 70,000 refugees at Ankawa were also frightened that Islamic State fighters had the capability to hit them within half an hour of launching an attack.

“Christians find Ankawa a safe place to stay, but some say that it is not a good solution that we are all living here because it is an easy target for ISIS to attack,” she told CNS.

 Zenit reported that Patriarch Sako says the hardships facing Iraqis should stir consciences into action.

Highlighting the extent of the refugee situation in northern Iraq, he warned of “escalating” humanitarian needs.

In a statement, Patriarch Sako said the “level of disaster is extreme” and that more must be done to “dry up the sources of manpower and the resources of these Islamic terrorists”.

He said that in the Christian villages around Mosul up to the borders of Kurdistan Region “the churches are deserted and desecrated”.

Specifically, he noted, “five bishops are out of their bishoprics, the priests and nuns left their missions and institutions, leaving everything behind”. He said families had “fled with their children abandoning everything else”.

The situation facing Iraqi Christians has deteriorated as the forces of Islamic State (IS) have expanded across the Nineveh Plain. In July, the terrorist group issued an ultimatum demanding Christians convert, pay an “infidel” tax or be killed. Thousands of Iraqi faithful fled Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city.

In his statement, Patriarch Sako decried how children and elderly in the region were sick and dying, along with the thousands of refugee families spread over the Kurdistan Region who lost everything.

As IS militants were still advancing, humanitarian aid was insufficient, he said. About 70,000 displaced Christians and other religious minorities have fled to Ankawa, a suburb of Irbil, where they are seeking refuge in churches, schools or living in “deplorable” conditions on the streets and public parks.

As humanitarian needs escalate, the Chaldean Patriarch criticised the international co-ordination as slow and therefore limiting the effectiveness of helping thousands awaiting immediate support.

Although the churches were doing all they can, he said more must be done by others. United States President Barack Obama’s decision to only give military assistance to protect Irbil “is disappointing”, he said, as they were not going to attack the IS in Mosul and in the Nineveh Plain.

Although Mr Obama has said he was interested in preventing the Islamist militants from establishing a caliphate in Iraq, many await concrete military and humanitarian action.

Patriarch Sako also criticised the Iraqi Government. “While the country is under fire, the politicians in Baghdad are fighting for power,” he said.

The BBC reported that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki has been criticised for sectarian policies. His push to serve a third term is also adding to tension.

Patriarch Sako expressed concern that “in the end, perhaps Mosul will not be liberated neither the villages in the Nineveh Plain,” as other Islamic extremists continued to join IS from around the world.

The choice of the refugee families, he said, was either to migrate or to stay. If they migrate, he asked, “do they have the necessary documents and money?” If they stay, he wondered what their fate would really be, whether their schools would be reopened, and if they wiould be able to retain their property, jobs and belongings.

He closed by calling on all people and organisations to reflect on these questions and to take action to help the Iraqi people.

CNS and Zenit

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