A “sad” Christmas for Iraqi Christians who have taken refuge in Jordan

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Compared to the fifteen-meter-tall Christmas tree that sat in the church square of his city in Iraq, the tree that Saad Polus Qiryaqoz bought this year to decorate his apartment in Jordan looks pale.

Until the Islamic State (IS) group invaded the Nineveh Plain in 2014, forcing them to flee, Christians in this region of northern Iraq celebrated Christmas with joy for a whole month.

“We were happy before the jihadists destroyed everything” in the town of Bartella, recalls this engineer, father of three, in his modest apartment in Marka, a working-class suburb of the Jordanian capital.

“At the time, we gathered with our relatives in front of the tree installed in the square near the church to pray and sing (…) Today all that is over,” he adds bitterly.

A “sad” Christmas for Iraqi Christians who have taken refuge in Jordan

More than 66,000 Iraqis live in Jordan, according to American statistics, after having fled, in waves, after the first Gulf War in 1990, the American invasion of 2003, then the arrival of the IS.

Among them are between 12,000 and 18,000 Christians, according to Wael Souleiman, who heads the Jordanian branch of the Catholic NGO Caritas.

Most of the refugees are waiting for permission to emigrate to another country, Jordan forbidding them to work.

” We are alone “

In 2016, two years after ISIS was driven from Bartella and other Christian strongholds in the region by Iraqi forces, Mr. Qiryaqoz, who had taken refuge in Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, returned to his city. . It was a shock.

“There was no other option but to flee to find a safe place for my family,” said the 56-year-old man. In spring 2017, they moved to Jordan.

“We have submitted four emigration applications for Australia, all of which were rejected even though we speak English and have family there,” he laments.

Emile Saïd will also spend the end of the year celebrations in Jordan, far from his native country. “Christmas is sad here”, laments this 53-year-old father of three.

In Iraq, “we had a lot to eat and drink, here we are alone. Nobody visits us and we do not see other Iraqis, because many of us are in need and we do not want to embarrass anyone ”, he regrets, referring to the traditions of hospitality.

A “sad” Christmas for Iraqi Christians who have taken refuge in Jordan

According to him, life in Jordan is “very difficult and expensive” and Iraqi refugees are mostly unemployed and receive little assistance.

He hopes to move with his family to the United States, where he has relatives. To better endure the wait, they decorated a small tree.

“The war is over”

Father Khalil Jaar, priest of the Church of the Virgin Mary in Marka, knows this plight of Iraqi refugees well. From 2014, he set up a school, a clinic, a sewing workshop and a computer room for them in the religious complex.

A “sad” Christmas for Iraqi Christians who have taken refuge in Jordan

In five years, he has helped more than 2,500 families complete their immigration documents for another country, but, according to him, “500 Christian families in Iraq are still awaiting” authorization.

“When we ask local or international NGOs for help, they tell us that the war in Iraq is over and that the refugees should return home,” he said.

This year, thanks to a donation from a wealthy Iraqi family living in Amman, Father Jaar is preparing coupons worth 50 Jordanian dinars (around 89 Canadian dollars) for families to buy clothes for their children for Christmas.

“Children shouldn’t have to pay the price for what’s going on,” he says.

For its part, Caritas has been helping Iraqi refugees for three decades, but budget restrictions mean that the NGO can only help 10% of those in Jordan, according to Mr. Souleiman.

Christmas miracles are rare, but still happen from time to time: Dalia Youssef, whose husband was killed in Iraq in 1997 while she was pregnant, has finally received an authorization to leave Jordan with her son, direction l Australia, five years after its request.

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