Erbil, Asharq Al-Awsat—Following reports that no Christians remain in Iraq’s second city after the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) gave Mosul’s Christian community a deadline to either leave or face execution, Iraqi Christian refugees have said they were shocked by their Muslim neighbors’ lack of support, and are pledging not to return to their old homes.
Sara Youssef, aged 43, was forced to flee Mosul with her family of six, taking refuge in Iraqi Kurdistan, where most of Mosul’s Christian refugees have fled. She spoke to Asharq Al-Awsat while sheltering in the Al-Nour Church in the district of Ankawa in northwest Erbil.
“Days before ISIS’s decision to expel us, there was an anticipatory atmosphere in the city as we questioned our fate. In the end, our neighbors betrayed us . . . They expelled us from our homes and took all our possessions. This is a true betrayal,” she said.
“Even if safety and security are restored to Mosul, we will not return to the city after our savings and homes have been robbed. How can we live in a society that handed us over to ISIS?” she added.
ISIS gave Mosul’s Christian population, which has historic ties to the northern city, a choice of either leaving en masse or converting to Islam. Hundreds of families immediately fled Iraq’s second city, with a second wave of families with elderly or infirm members subsequently leaving. The Christian refugees said that ISIS had confiscated their belongings, with many left with nothing but the clothes they were wearing when they left.
However, Youssef said that not all of Mosul’s Muslim community had turned their back on the city’s Christians. “One of our neighbors was very sad about what happened to us [but] he could not do anything for us because others in our area came with the militants to show them our homes,” she said.
As for her plans for the future, she told Asharq Al-Awsat: “We hope to stay in Kurdistan which has respected and sheltered us.”
During a press conference in Erbil on Tuesday, Archbishop of the Diocese of Mosul Daoud Sharaf expressed surprise at the stance of the people of Mosul and their “help in the expulsion of Christians from the city.”
“Mosques were urging Muslims to attack us and rob our properties,” he said.
Tamara, another Christian woman from Mosul, told Asharq Al-Awsat that ISIS fighters had “confiscated” 50,000 US dollars—all of her savings—and jewelry from her house.
“Before we left the city, we were stopped by militants, who took all we had, including our car, mobile phones, identity cards, passports and our daughter’s medicine . . . They forced us to leave the city on foot,” she added.