Martin, working as a seminary student in Erbil, September 2014
Martin, working as a seminary student in Erbil, September 2014

World Watch Monitor

As the world attempts to come to terms with the thousands of refugees escaping the horrors of war in Syria and Iraq, World Watch Monitor hears what life is like for the hundreds of families from northern Iraq who fled overnight from an invading ISIS force to settle in a makeshift camp, which has now been their home for more than a year.

In 2014, thousands of people left their homes in Mosul, Karamles, Qaraqosh, and other Christian villages on the Nineveh plain, which were falling to ISIS. They weren’t heading for a new life in Europe, but for the nearest city that would offer them refuge. They headed south to Erbil, the “capital” of Iraq’s self-governing region of Kurdistan, where they found shelter. For the last year, some of these displaced people have been helped by Martin, a seminary student and fellow Kurd also forced to flee his home.

Life after ISIS

World Watch Monitor originally met Martin in August 2014 after he had started caring for the displaced people of Karamles, a town close to ISIS-held Mosul. 

The people from Karamles had nowhere to stay after they arrived in Erbil, so, after sleeping a few nights in the grounds of a church, they were moved into the construction site of an unfinished shopping mall, which housed hundreds of families in the immediate aftermath of Islamic State’s attacks.

The first few nights, they all had to sleep on the concrete floor, but within a few days tents and mattresses arrived, making it more comfortable.

UNHCR tent serves as church and school

Since February 2015, they no longer live in in the partially constructed shopping mall and now live in small trailers that surround the UNHCR tent, which functions as both their church and school.

Since becoming displaced by ISIS, the UNHCR tent is the only public place Martin’s community has and they still don’t know what has happened to their church in Karamles.

“We don’t hear much about Karamles,” Martin said, “But we have our prayers and services in exactly the same way as we did in Karamles, so in this way we remember our church.”

ISIS reassures Martin of calling

Martin said he felt called by God to be a priest as a young boy, then entered seminary directly after finishing high-school.

He was forced from his home by ISIS in the summer of 2014. When asked if he feels like the situation in Iraq has made it difficult for him to remain true to his calling, he firmly shakes his head: “No. This situation has proved my calling … I am needed here at this moment to feed my people with charity and with hope.” 

Pornography a ‘big problem’ in camp’s close quarters

Following the chaos created by ISIS, life goes on as normal for internally displaced people, bringing some ongoing issues to the surface.

Martin explains that pornography was a problem in his community prior to the attacks of ISIS, but he said it became a “big problem” when everyone was living in close quarters with no privacy.

February 2015 map showing ISIS-controlled areas close to Kurdish region in north-eastern Iraq
February 2015 map showing ISIS-controlled areas close to Kurdish region in north-eastern Iraq

Courtesy Open Doors International