Group of refugees soon after arriving in Kirkuk

More news has emerged about the situation of Christians who are still being detained in Islamic State after ten elderly Christians, some with disabilities, managed to escape.

The group, eight men and two women, were ‘expelled’ by IS militants for refusing to convert to Islam.

They spent two days travelling and arrived in Kirkuk on 7 January, an area now under the control of Kurdish Peshmerga Forces, after being forced to leave a temporary residence in Mosul.

The group had been living in Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, for nearly three months after IS militants forced them out of a nursing home in Qaraqosh on 24 October, said a nun Sister Teresa (whose name has been changed for security) who met them

Teresa has worked at a monastery in Erbil after also having fled Islamic State six months ago when its rebels attacked Qaraqosh in August. She confirmed that militants stole the elderly Christians’ money, jewellery and IDs.

The group told another World Watch Monitor source working in Erbil that they were pressured to say the Islamic shahada, which is a spoken confession of faith to become Muslim. Rahel, one of the women from the groupsaid “We did not want to become Muslim; we just wanted to leave”.

Teresa said several Christians are being held against their will throughout the region and that the church is trying to negotiate their release and has already paid IS money to set them free: “among them is a three-year-old girl that IS has demanded thousands of dollars to release.”

She estimates about 40 Christians from Qaraqosh, Bartella and Karamles are still detained in an elderly care home in Mosul.

“When we were in Qaraqosh, IS used to beat us every day with their weapons or hands,” one of the elderly men told Teresa.

“They gave us little food. But when we were taken to Mosul, we were held in a hall with other people and there was another hall beside us too and we could hear more people there. They were rounded up and detained as well.”

He continued, “One day, a member from IS came and called some of our names and said ‘Stand up, we will call you soon!’ We thought that they will kill us, but later they took us and we asked them ‘When are you going to let us leave?’ An IS member replied – ‘Not without ransom’.”

“They had thrown us out from our villages and our homes, so they could occupy them and then we were all clumped together in a residence in Mosul. We managed to survive thanks to the assistance of some Muslim families, who brought us food and what we needed. Then, at some point, those of the Caliphate told us we could stay there only if we converted to Islam. I refused. If you want, send me away,” said one of the elders to Agenzia Fides.

According to Ankawa, an Assyrian news agency, the group had to wait before being allowed into the Kurdish region because all roads have been closed between Mosul and Kirkuk.

The group arrived on 6 January at Alkhaled checkpoint, a contact line between the Kurdish Peshmerga forces and Islamic State before being granted official approval to enter. Upon entry they were transferred to the Chaldean Diocese.

The couple met in a refugee center similar to the one pictured.
The couple met in a refugee centre similar to the one pictured (World Watch Monitor)

Meanwhile, a happier note on which to end about the younger generation of IS refugees: a man and a woman from Mosul, both in their late twenties, met in a camp and are now engaged.

They explained that in Mosul they hadn’t known each other, but that their newfound circumstances meant that “only a thin mattress wall was separating us from each other.”