Nowhere to go: Refugee families escaped ISIS, but cannot escape captivity

Nowhere to go: Refugee families escaped ISIS, but cannot escape captivity January 8, 2016

It’s morning and Salwan Mochtar opens the door to face the day. Sadly, this day is no different than yesterday and likely no different than tomorrow.

The fittingly named Lady of Peace school towers high, looking down at the 10 x 15 hard-sided caravan trailers where Salwan and ten other families live. The school is part of a sprawling Catholic complex including a stunning new church. The trailer grouping is at the backside of the sanctuary and are managed by Caritas International, the Catholic relief society.

For Salwan, this is a place of peace for his family as his family escaped the ISIS crush in Mosul, Iraq last July. He was an elementary school teacher there with a gorgeous villa with a healthy church, social life, and modern comforts.

Then ISIS crossed the river and they drove up and down the streets.

“Daesh gave us four choices: Pay the tax, Convert to Islam, be beheaded – or leave.”

A few days later his home received the Mark of the Nazerne, an Arabic symbol that meant a Christian lived in the building. They spray painted sign also said that the home was now the property of the Islamic State.

Their bishop was killed, and I openly wept when they shared his picture.


So he left, along with thousands of other Christians. They couldn’t take their possession, “not even medicine.” They left behind their homes, possessions, vehicles… their whole lives.

He told me he was grateful to Caritas International, the Catholic relief agency that has provided housing, and food on the grounds of the parish. “We are safe here.”

His four year old son, Daniel just returned from the hospital where he was treated for a lung issue. Another son, Zachi, 9, played with other children.


Too many promises

But, as he told me his story, I was could sense a frustration. When I asked him about it, he became animated.

“There have been too many promises. But now, nothing.”

The people in the camp have been visited by the United Nations ambassador and the foreign affairs minister of England. He’s been interviewed by US network news.

“We are still here.”

It’s a no-man’s land. Although Jordan gave his family, and 2000 others, VISAs to stay in the country, they are not allowed to work because they would compete with an already struggling native workforce. Salwan has applied for immigrant and refugee status in Canada, the U.S. and with the U.N.

If accepted by the U.N. they could go to any receiving country.


What’s next?

But until they are allowed to travel, they are stuck on the property. 10 families, their present forged by a horrific past. Their murky future is reduced to anxious boredom. They all share the same uncertainty.

At 38, Salwan seemed to give up on his own economic well-being and is singularly concerned about opportunity for his children.

“We will go any place. As long as there is security and a possibility for a future for my children.”

He has three brothers in the United States. They all own mobile phone stores and he could work immediately.

“I do not want welfare. I want to work. I want to help my family,” he said. “As Iraqis, we want to work. We cannot sit. One year now and it’s driving me crazy!”

One by one, I was struck as they told the careers they left behind – Agricultural engineer, a civil engineer, another teacher and a pharmacist. Tremendous talent, just wasting away in a corner of a church property.”

What does he dream about?

“I do not want to go back to Iraq,” Salwan said. But I want to be part of a community and a church. I want for my family o have a life again.”


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