AINA News
Christians and Other Religious Minorities in Iraq Living in Sectarian Hell
By Nuri Kino

(AINA) -- Approximately two thousand Assyrians and other Christian Iraqis are living illegally in Sweden since Immigration Minister Billstrom approved their deportation.

So let me give him and the Swedish Migration Board an update on the situation in Iraq. Thousands of members of ISIS, a Jihadi Group, have invaded Iraq's second biggest city. They are an Islamist group who believe that anyone not following their interpretation of the Quran does not have the right to live. They also believe that non-Muslims should convert, pay taxes for living as second class citizens or die. Most Christians, maybe all, have left Mosul. Iraqis, no matter ethnicity or religion, are human beings, like you and me, they are also made out of flesh and blood. They have thoughts and feelings. Sometimes we occupy ourselfs with statistics and figures and forget that. How many werer killed? How many have fled? How many will come to Sweden? What happened today is not something that started yesterday. For Assyrians and other Iraqi minorities this has been going on since the US invasion of the country. To show you some human faces, let me tell you the story of three brothers. We may call them the "Riyad", "Sargon" and "Daniel."

It was winter 2010, outside St. Clara Church in downtown Stockholm. A few minutes after I had held my talk on how the Swedish asylum system operates, twenty Christian refugees from Iraq gathered around me. They all had their asylum applications rejected and they were wanted by Swedish police. If they were arrested they would be put in custody and thereafter put on a flight back to Baghdad, in handcuffs. One of them stood a bit aside and he had pulled down his cap so you couldn't see his eyes. He waited until the others broke up and left. Suddenly he approached me.

"I know you have a lot to do, I know you everybody wants you to look at their case, but my situation is very different, please I beg you to call me when you can."

He left a note with his mobile number on. I put it in my pocket along with a dozen others.

This is how it sounded when my collague Karin Wirenhed and I did a segment in Swedish Radio in June 2010 about Riyad.

Riyad is a Christian Assyrian who has worked for the American army in Iraq. His brother Sargon worked at the same military base was kidnapped by Islamist extremists in their hometown Mosul in norther Iraq. Sargon was consequently brutally murdered in front of a video-camera. The video shows Sargon sitting on a chair, his face and his body bare witness to torture. With his eyes fixed on the camera he is forced to say that he is a traitor and a spy because he has worked for the enemy USA. He is blindfolded as four masked men stand behind him, one of them reads a death-sentence. What happens after is too horrific to describe. It is more unpleasant than what the brain dares to take in. When it is all over the brothers head is displayed like a trophy. Without the blindfold so that you can see who it is. The DVD with the murder spreads like wildfire, to stop Iraqis from working for the Americans and for driving non-Muslims on the run from Iraq. A few days after the murder Riyad wandered among hospitals in Mosul to find Sargon's corpse. He did. Everything except the head. Riyad was also threatened himself, as well as all his family and all other Christians. Every time he closes his eyes, the movie with his brother Sargon shows up in his head and he's can't to forget how his brother looked when he found him in the hospital.

A month ago Riyad got back in touch. He wanted to invite me to his wedding and needed an address to send the invitation to. When we met, a week ago, he had not slept for days. He was exhausted. He could barely speak.

"What if the same thing happens to Daniel, my only surviving brother, what if they cut his head off too. And his children wife? His children, 9 and 16 years old, what's going to happen to them?"

Riyad had decided to postpone his wedding. He couldn't get married, dance and enjoy himself when Daniel and his family were hiding in a basement in Mosul. Daniel did also flee from Mosul when Sargon was killed. While Riyad was smuggled to Sweden Daniel stayed in Baghdad, he couldn't afford to get all his family smuggled. The price per person is 20,000 Euro. Also it's dangerous to get smuggled with kids all the way from Iraq to Europe. When things became calmer in Mosul he returned to his house.

A couple of days after the invasion of Mosul, on the 12th June 2014, Riyad giave me Daniel's telephone number. He as hiding in a basement in Mosul with his family. He whispered so his children couldn't hear his fear and desperation.

"I don't know what to do, I can't go out on the street with my wife and children."

Today, Monday the 16th of June, Daniel has managed to flee with his family to Erbil in Kurdistan, Iraq. It took them a whole day. They couldn't make it through the official border since Kurdistan can't bare to take in more refugees. Daniel called a friend who knew a way in. From Erbil Daniel says:

The first few days after that ISIS took over Mosul, I still had a touch of hope that we could still stay there. But when they read out the declaration for living conditions, I knew it was over. It will be very difficult to live in Mosul for everyone, regardless of religion. But for us who are Christians and Assyrians it's worse. They require that all women must be veiled and preferably never leave home. Christian graves and thousand of years old Assyrian artifacts will be destroyed. Hairdressers closed. Everyone must pay a tax and we Christians will be forced to pay twice as they believe that there is a fee we must pay to be protected. The moment I heard ISIS's declaration, I decided to pack up what little we could get with us and escape. Now we have lost everything, home, all our things, everything. But we are at least alive.

In Sweden Riyad lives as an illegal refugee and is working for 30 Swedish crowns, less then 5 dollars, per hour. The reason Riyad fled and went through hell on the way to Sweden was that his brother was beheaded and the terrorists looked for him too. He was also on their list of "traitors" that should be beheaded for working with Americans. Riyad's family gathered up all the money they had, they sold their gold, and paid smugglers to get him to Sweden. Here he was rejected asylum and became an illegal refugee, one among many.

The Swedish Migration Board had earlier proposed that refugees could return to other locations within Iraq from where they fled from. So the question is how many who have had their applications rejected and are now live in hiding will dare to reapply? What will happen to the Iraqi Christians who are here illegally. What does the Immigration Minister Billstrom have to say?

First published on medium.com. For hour-by-hour updates on the Iraq crisis from those on the ground, follow Nuri Kino on Twitter.


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