venerdì, settembre 05, 2014

 

A desperate plea from Iraq: take us away!

By Baghdadhope*

"My name is Behnam Benoka, priest of Bartella, a small Christian town near Mosul. I am vice-rector of the Catholic seminary in Ankawa. Today, however, I am in a tent that has been erected with a staff of doctors and volunteers who are giving medical care to our brothers fleeing persecution."
"Your holiness, the situation of your sheep is miserable, they are dying and hungry. Your little ones are scared and can’t go on. We, priests and religious, are few and fear to not be being able to meet the physical and mental needs of your and our children."
"I would like to thank you so much – really thank you – because you always carry us in your heart, placing us on the altar where Mass is celebrated so that God erases our sins and has mercy on us, and hopefully take this cup away from us.
"I am writing in tears, because here we are in a dark valley in the middle of a large pack of ferocious wolves. Your Holiness, I'm afraid of losing your children, especially infants who are struggling every day and weaken day after day. I'm afraid that death will take some away. Send us your blessing so as we have the strength to go on and maybe still resist.
I love you, Behnam Benoka."

This is an excerpt of the letter written by the Syriac Catholic priest Benham Benoka to Pope Francis  last August 18  to which the Pope himself responded with a phone call the next day during which he asked God for the gift of perseverance in faith for Iraqi Christians.

Only few days have elapsed but something has changed, the pack of ferocious wolves has not been driven away but, rather, is more numerous, and Father Benoka makes a more tragic plea. Here are his own words:

Mass Asylum
Dear brothers and sisters around the world,
If you really want to do something for the Christians in Iraq then help them to get asylum in Australia, USA or Europe. I tell you this not in my name but on behalf of a large number of our members, who don’t stop to ask it to us every day.
As for me and some of the priests of the Syriac Catholic diocese of Mosul we are moving to ask for a mass or large groups asylum for our faithful because we don’t need individual emigration as we are a community.
The Syriac Catholic Church, in fact, is one of the smaller churches and is present mainly in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. If our people continue to flee individually or with their families it means that this church will disappear from history because it will be spread out all over the world.
With a mass emigration or the emigration of large groups we can instead save what is left.

These are important and heavy words if we consider the efforts of all these years to prevent Christians from disappearing from Iraq, but they denote the level of desperation reached by the Christians there.
Baghdadhope spoke with Father Benoka who explained his words:
"People have no more hope, and the problem now is not only the ISIS because the Muslims of the Nineveh Plain, those with whom we have always been living, are taking possession of the houses and activities that Christians were forced to leave.
What is the meaning, then, of cohabitation or citizenship?
Homeland does not mean only the land but also the people who live in it, we already lost our land and our possessions and the people betrayed us.
Which country are we talking of? A country that does not want us. They can take everything but not our faith according to which we want to live because it is synonymous with life"
Questioned if the request from some of the Syriac Catholic priests in Mosul for a mass asylum for their faithful is or pre-announces an official request Father Benoka answered to speak on behalf of some of the priests of the diocese of Mosul who are in direct contact with the sufferings, and not of the Bishop, the only one who could, in case, formalize such a request even if, the priest notes with sad realism, "to which country such a request could be made? No country seems willing to accept the Christian refugees in mass."
Father Benoka knows that his words will have an echo because for the first time a priest speaks openly to eradicate the whole, however small, community of Syriac Catholic Church, but he also explains that he can’t  be silent and that, yes, he asked the Holy Father's blessing to have the strength to resist, but while religious people can do it it is not the case of civilians who are exhausted.

"We no longer know how to respond to their needs, we are not experts in this field. We are anguished not only by the material problems but also by the disappearing of the dignity and the human values in these miserable conditions. There is no longer a light at the end of the tunnel, no more "

Father Benoka is in charge of the dispensary of the camp of the sanctuary of Mart Shmoni in Ankawa that is hosting from 400 to 500 families (with an average of 5 members each = 2000/2500 people) although the numbers change from day to day because "families come and go and no one can count them.”
What he tells is scaring.
"When the first families arrived, after waiting also for 12 hours under the sun to get in  Ankawa, we had nothing, I repeat nothing. There were no tents, water, food, medicines, not even light. Immediately a child with high temperature was taken to me by his family, but what could I do? I called a friend who is a doctor who rushed to help and who was literally overwhelmed by people in need. Children with temperature, dehydrated elderly, many cases of diarrhea, various diseases and for everyone the fear, the shock of what they had suffered. We worked all night in the light of torches distributing the few medicines we had."
Is there other medical personnel now?
"There are other doctors from Bartella, Qaraqosh, Mosul, Karamles, all volunteers who are still trying to do what they can but it is not easy"
Does the dispensary work?
"Not well, but we can’t do more. We have to buy the medicines, the first few days I sent young people to beg  for them in the pharmacies of the city and the only aids we had were from individual Iraqis or foreign donations, by my Spanish friends, by an American and a French association, by an Italian parish. "
Are you saying then that no NGOs and no international organizations such as the UNHCR is helping your camp ?
"No one, no one came here to help, and every day we treat more than 500 people who come also from other camps or who live in the city but are too poor to buy the medicines. We buy everything but I don’t know how much longer we can "
So you received only voluntary donations, what about the institutions?
"Nothing, the government humiliated us by allocating to each family 1,000,000 dinars (about $ 700), which is a ridiculous figure, considering that most of the people who came here had nothing because they had been forced to flee in a hurry, or because the little they had was confiscated at the checkpoints by the IS, and that nothing they had to leave behind will be more theirs. Nor does the Church still has given us something. What is needed, in addition to one-off aid of which we are grateful, is a constant support that allows us to manage not only the emergencies but also the everyday life of the camp. "
Tell us about this everyday life.
"I am in charge of the dispensary while another priest is in charge of the camp. What I can say is that life is terrible. In the beginning people slept on the ground and in the church, under the altar too, now there are some tents but not for every family considering how many they are, but during the day the temperature inside can rise up to 50°. There are only fifteen bathrooms (non-chemical) and for the food we buy what we need which is then cooked by a volunteer lady who worked in a restaurant before. These conditions pushed me to ask to help these people to leave the country. Which future do they have? They live in miserable conditions, they no longer have a home or a job, they have no hope of staying in Kurdistan where the cost of living is three times higher than anywhere else, and that can’t absorb such a large number of people or give them a job. I know to assume a great responsibility in speaking of mass asylum but, believe me, I can no longer remain silent. Whatever it takes. "

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