“As long as there is even one Christian family left we will stay”
During the war the Dominican Sisters of Iraq lost more than 23 convents that fell into the hands of Islamic State and they were forced to flee. During the flight 14 nuns died, most were older or fell ill and were unable to endure the hardships of their exile.
The Dominican Sisters are now spread throughout the territory that has not fallen into the hands of Islamic State helping orphaned children, the elderly and displaced families. Sister Suhama is very clear: “As long as there is even one Christian family in Iraq we will stay.”
The houses in which displaced families live were supplied by a builder who could not finish the work and rented them half-built for a relatively inexpensive price. What was once a half-built ghost town is now “Hope City” – the refuge of thousands of Christians who fled from Mosul, Qaraqosh and Bartella. 3-4 families live in each house, with an average of 5 children each. Coexistence is not always easy.
For now, the $ 160,000 per month needed to cover the cost is guaranteed till December, thanks in part to Aid to the Church in Need, but in December it is not known what will happen to all these people. It is possible that this large amount of money cannot continue to be paid. Asked if they are worried about what may happen in December, Sister Suhama replies: “Not at all, we leave it in the hands of God, we are very quiet.”
The camp for displaced families is provided with basic services: nursery, school, church, dispensary and a small clinic which many Muslims from a nearby camp use. In fact, “80% of the patients are Muslims” says Sister Suhama.
At the beginning, there were 30 Yazidi families in Hope city. Now there are only 4 – the others left because of the lack of water and the continuous power cuts. The Yazidis live in perfect harmony with the Christians. Many Yazidí families came from Sinjar, a region hard hit by Islamic State attacks.
They now take refuge in small huts with cartons on the roof as thermal insulation. The relationship with their Sinjar neighbors was good until they were told: “You are not of our religion, we will kill you if you do not convert to Islam.” They were forced to flee to the mountains, where they were surrounded by Islamic State.
17,000 Yazidis died in Sinjar or in the mountains because they could not stand the harsh weather conditions and lack of water and food. Another 30,000 fled to the mountains and survived, and the rest, 5,020 Yazidis, were taken as slaves. Most of the women and girls were sold in the markets of Raqqa and Mosul as sex slaves.
Something similar happened to Christians in Qaraqosh and Bartella, Sister Suhama laments: “Those who threw us out of our houses were not from Islamic State, they were our neighbours. Daesh (Islamic State) would not have been able to enter if our neighbors had not taken their side. They betrayed us. “
For many, after what happened, coexistence is very difficult: “I am convinced that if Daesh came to the camp, our Muslim neighbors would stand by their side. Coexistence is no longer possible, now we just say hello and goodbye, trust has been broken and restoring it is very difficult “says the Dominican nun.
For Sister Suhama, the most beautiful thing about Hope City is that “all our life together is built around the Church. Every day we pray the rosary, vespers and there are so many at Mass we do not fit inside.” She comments “Without God we could do nothing”.