Father Bazi is responsible in Ankawa of two hospitality centres for Christians who fled from the violence of the IS.
Baghdadhope interviewed him.
"Centres" and not "camps" the priest specifies and "relatives" and not "refugees" because "words such as 'centre' and 'refugee' make people think about foreigners while they are our people, our family."
The centre of the shrine of Mar Eliyya hosts 214 families, while the centre called Shlama Mall, (Shlama means peace in Aramaic) which is located near the church of Saint Joseph, hosted 111 families until some days ago when 60 of them were moved in rented houses. If you consider an average of 5 people per family the account is easily done: almost 1650 people, most of whom will have to face the coming winter living in tents.
In both centres, despite the obvious difficulties and differences, the situation is, according Father Bazi, "under control."
In Mar Eliyya centre there is no shortage of food or medicines, that can be provided also by the near Ankawa Clinic, or doctors who assist people in a small caravan. All the "relatives" as the priest prefers to call the guests, sleep in tents, and in the first few days after their arrival in early August, when the centre was still not organized, they could rely on Christian families already living in the city who fed, clothed and housed them offering them their baths and showers, aided by the English speaking Catholic community for which Father Bazi celebrated and celebrates the Holy Mass. Now bathrooms and showers are in the centre and they are enough for all, as well as the food that is mostly (80%) provided for the two centres by the Chaldean diocese of Erbil managed by Mons. Matti Bashar Warda (diocese that as the Father Bazi declares support most of the 26 centres in its territory) and for the remaining 20% by the generous Christian community of Ankawa.
Such described the centre looks like only a place of discomfort but there are problems too, especially as for the future of these people.
"Every morning there is a meeting," says Father Bazi "with the other priest, Father Danial Al Khoury of the Ancient Church of the East, and the 25 volunteers who work with us. Firstly we decide the schedule of the day and what we need, then we decide, based on what we observed, the level of safety in the centre that goes from green when everything is quiet, to orange when people appear bored, aggressive, or gather in groups among which the conflicts can arise, to red when there are conflicts or, unfortunately, in case of suicide attempts. "
"For the first weeks," the priest continues, "we focused on children for whom we have organized various activities such as games and films that keep them busy all day. Some days ago we even started lessons for them, the volunteers teach Math, English, Arabic and some other subject. The children lived harsh experiences and we always recommend adults, parents and professionals to not transfer their anxieties to them who deserve a normal life, if we lose the children we lose their and our future."
"Now that children’s days have been scheduled we are taking care of the younger girls who cannot leave the centre and who, too old to play but too small to get away from the control of their families, begin to feel the effects of isolation and may try to escape or get into trouble. "
"In the short term the first victims of the actions of the IS can be these girls, while in the long term we are concerned about children’s future."
"Basically, I can say that all the material problems can be solved or overcome - on the other hand the Iraqis didn’t starve during the embargo - but the psychological ones related to the trauma suffered by those who have been victims of violence, or related to the forced cohabitation in poor conditions are more difficult to solve."
The situation in Shlama Mall centre is different from that of Mar Eliyya because the people who live in the still under construction building are different. The ground floor is occupied by families from the village of Qaraqosh, on the first floor the families come from Qaraqosh and Karamles and on the second there are only families from Karamles.
"They are all families related to each other and self-sufficient from the point of view of organization so that we deliver what they need, and for example, they cook the food and manage their members. Certainly we must check to prevent the arising of conflicts among the groups but overall I would say that also in Shlama Mall, the situation is under control."
It is not easy for the two priests and the 25 volunteers to handle a situation that can be "under control" but is potentially explosive as always happens when thousands of people are forced to live together "in captivity" with no hope of being able to get back to a normal life.
What is necessary is an almost military organization capability Father Bazi has previously shown to have, but also imagination. With a few tricks, as the priest says "in Mar Eliyya centre we solved the problem of waste produced by so many people," he laughs, "maybe in an unconventional but effective method: we pay the kids if they take it to us. In this way everything works. The centre is clean and the children who receive a snack, a drink or a packet of biscuits feel useful, and they really are. "
Father, what will be these people’s fate?
"I don't know when the IS will be defeated in Iraq and if and when these people can leave the centres. 50% of them will try to flee abroad and the other 50% will try to go back to their homes, perhaps a half of them will recover something if something is still there, and will be moving in Kurdistan. Maybe not in Erbil that has a high cost of living, perhaps nearby. We will see. I think the government and the church will be able to support these people for food and the rent but there are no jobs for all of them in Kurdistan."
In your opinion many will try to leave Iraq, will they succeed?
"I don’t know. I appreciated when France declared its willingness to grant visas to Iraqi Christians, we will see if it is really so, and if other countries will welcome them.
In my last homily I've made it clear to people that their first thought should be their children and their future, and that no one has the right to tell them what to do or where to live. I hope that the Western world wants to give these people the opportunity to rebuild their lives elsewhere from here if they wish.
What is the advantage of being killed in Iraq? What is better to talk of: living Iraqi Christians, even if abroad, or those who died?
We have suffered enough, now it is our duty not to make the next generation suffer.
Our ancestors made the history of Christianity in this part of the world and we admire them for that, but now we flee the devil. We all hope that these people can return to their homes, to their jobs. But are there still those houses? Are there still those jobs for them? If we consider the recent events from a rational point of view and not with our heart how can we expect these people to feel safe in returning to their houses? No one defended them from the Islamic State. Can we assure them that tomorrow it will not be the same? Why do I ask to the West to open its borders to those who can't live in this situation any longer? Because I think that if Christians will not be given this opportunity they could be killed, they could survive paying the tax that Islamic law imposes to non-Muslims, that someone could eventually be converted in order to save himself, and that someone might even try to respond with force triggering another spiral of violence. Are these alternatives? You in the West, would you accept them? I suffer saying this because, as a priest, if I lose my people what will I have? I love my country and I never deserted it even in the darkest times, but these people have children and for us, as it is for you, the children are the future. And no one must be deprived of his own future."
Read also: Iraqi Kurdistan Church Helps Christian Children Cope
by Voice of America