Lebanese Christians beg the world for aid
Lebanese churches are struggling to handle the influx of hundreds of Christian families who fled Mosul after Islamic extremists seized Iraq's second-largest city, threatening Christians and other minorities.
About 600 Iraqi families have fled to the Lebanese capital of Beirut in recent weeks.
"When you hear what has happened to them, you want to help," said a Lebanese woman who donated food to a Chaldean center in the Hazmiye neighborhood of Beirut.
Donations from Lebanese are pouring in after a plea for aid went viral. Basic foods like rice, beans, oil, tea and sugar has been delivered the Chaldean center in the past few days.
Beirut already was a place of refuge for Assyrian and Chaldean Christians from Iraq; some 1400 families have been registered since 2003. But in the past 10 days another 600 families are said to have arrived, mainly fleeing after threats of the radicals of the Islamic State (IS/formerly ISIS).
Stories about Christians in Mosul being forced to convert to Islam or die have shocked their fellow believers in Lebanon. Christians in IS controlled areas of Syria have faced a similar fate and sought refuge in Lebanon.
The Chaldean Bishop secretariat is overwhelmed by phone calls offering help and is turning away clothing donations. Food and money to pay for housing and medical care are the top priorities.
The Lebanese Chaldean Church has tried to find housing for refugees from Syria and Iraq, and helps with the rent if the refugees cannot pay for themselves. Because IS seized the refugees' belongings when they fled Mosul, the needs are high.
Yet some have difficulty asking for support, said Father George of the Saint Georges Assyrian Church in Beirut. "They had shops, money, and a good life. It is very hard for them to ask for help."
He helped one homeless Christian family of four find housing -- $1,200 for a one-bedroom apartment. The landlord, he said with disappointment, is also Christian.
While he is searching for a better, cheaper place for this family, the priest said the community is overwhelmed by the needs of refugees. Lebanon is hosting 1.1 million Syrian refugees, the most of any country.
"Even for Christian organizations it is not easy. Most Christians now are helped by the local community. The Lebanese government offers no help; our demolished country is not able to," he said.
Lebanon's churches were already having a hard time meeting the needs of Syrian Christians, and the new flood of refugees from Iraq is creating an even bigger challenge, said Paula Acceri of Gestures From The Heart, a small, local NGO has tried to help Christians from Mosul.
Even though donations are pouring in many do not reach those refugees that need it most, according to the NGO, which tries to connect the needy with churches.
"We help the worst cases (and) give them some money for rent. We will talk to the Ministry of Education to find an empty school building we can use to house refugees," Acceri said.
After a recent Sunday service, Iraqi Christians gathered outside the Chaldean Church of Saint Joseph.
One woman who asked not to be identified recounted how she fled and her family fled their village of Batnaya, near Mosul, in the middle of the night for the Kurdistan Region capital, Erbil. Her husband couldn't find his passport so stayed behind while she continued on with the children to Beirut, where her sisters live.
"We were caught in the fight between IS and the Peshmerga," she said. "Now the village is empty."
"We feel squeezed in the middle," said Mowfak Keriakos, 54, who fled Baghdad a month ago after being harassed by police for celebrating Christian holidays and because his daughter was forced to veil.
He did not flee to Iraqi Kurdistan because he feels the Kurds are not welcoming Christians and he doesn't believe he'll find work there.
"They did not protect Nineveh; otherwise the Christians would not have fled," he said.
Instead, Keriakos wants to join his brothers and his son in the United States. Many Iraqi Christians want to emigrate to the west and France offered refuge to Christians from Mosul last week.
Father George of the Assyrian Church is saddened by the prospect of so many Christians leaving the Middle East. He wants to set up a $1 million campaign to buy land for Christians in the region, and called on the west to stop taking refugees.
"The United Nations and Europe are too quiet," he said. "They must help Christians in Iraq and Syria so they don't have to leave.
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