Emil, a Catholic Iraqi refugee, hides his face during a posed photo at the Caritas Lebanon Migrant Center in Beirut on 8 August. The resident of Mosul, Iraq, fled his hometown with family members after receiving threats from Islamic State militants. (photo: CNS/Dalia Khamissy)
12 Aug 2014 By Doreen Abi Raad
BEIRUT (CNS) — The memory of that brutal June evening in his home near Mosul, Iraq, brought 48-year-old Joseph, now a refugee in Lebanon, to tears.
“These people know no limits of humanity, decency, or respect for human life,” he said of the Islamic State fighters.
Meeting with Catholic News Service on 8 August at the Caritas Lebanon Migrant Center in Beirut, he and other Catholic Iraqi refugees asked that their real names not be used to protect their identities as they shared the traumatic experiences that led to their exodus.
Joseph recalled how his wife and their teenage son, Bachar, were in their living room. Two other children were asleep around 10 p.m. when there was an explosion-like crash. In an instant, four militants barged into the house, guns aimed at the heads of father and son.
“Give us your gold and valuables,” he said they demanded.
Filled with fear, Joseph’s wife tried to calmly gather all jewelry she had. One of the militants, noticing Bachar’s cross, ripped off the chain in a rage and started to beat the boy, accusing the family of withholding their gold.
“What’s for sure is they [the terrorists] are not all Iraqis. The ones with the beards are not Iraqis,” Joseph said.
After ransacking the home for other valuables, the terrorists warned they would return in 48 hours. Their ultimatum: The family must convert to Islam, pay the Islamic jizya tax, or be killed.
Joseph knew he had no choice but to flee quickly with his family.
“We were happy, our life was good,” he said, collapsing into sobs.
“All the work of my father and myself and my brothers, all the years … gone in just a few seconds,” he said of the trading company he had to abandon. The next morning, “I went to the cemetery and said good-bye to my father, and I went to Mass in my church to receive the Eucharist. I think it was the last Mass celebrated in my village. And I thought, if I’m meant to die at this time, at least I’m in God’s house.”
The family fled to Irbil the night after the attack, eventually boarding a flight to Beirut.
The militants told Joseph’s neighbors — an 85-year-old woman, partially paralyzed by a stroke, and her 60-year-old daughter — they had six hours to leave their home. The women had no choice but to leave on foot, with the daughter assisting her disabled mother along the road, Joseph said. He added he hoped they were able to get a ride from the convoys of vans and pick-up trucks filled with other Christians fleeing their homes.
Through a relative, Joseph found a furnished apartment in Beirut, but rent is $850, so he is searching for cheaper accommodations, knowing that his savings will quickly run out.
Jobs in tiny, economically strapped Lebanon are hard to find. New refugees have to compete with other refugees for work. Currently more than 1.5 million Syrian refugees — equal to at least one-quarter of Lebanon’s resident population — are living in Lebanon.
Even before the Islamist militant onslaught in Mosul and Iraq’s Ninevah province beginning in June, there were already some 9,000 Iraqi refugees in Lebanon, most of whom fled their homeland after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.