“I only found these marbles,”
“I started collecting them from the ground, one by one. All my toys were destroyed. These were all I could find.”
Like many other Christian and Yazidi families,
They are happy to be safe, even if uncertain about the future.
'WE KNEW THEY WERE COMING FOR US'
It was in the summer of 2014 that
“It was normal summer night,”
“We knew they were coming for us,” he said.
“We don’t trust the current situation. We don’t know if we are safe from something like this happening again.”
“It was very difficult,”
“I put them in the car and we left, but everyone else left at the same time. It was a bad situation. Sandstorms made [it] hard to see and breathe.”
“It was scary. Our own soldiers were shooting over our heads.”
The family, whose last name is being withheld due to safety concerns, eventually made it to Erbil. They originally stayed with a relative to gain their bearings, before moving to a makeshift camp in a building that was only half constructed. They stayed there for 28 days. Then they were moved to a more permanent refugee camp where they stayed for nearly three years in cramped conditions.
“It was difficult in the beginning,” Haitam said, “to go from a house to one small room.”
The father of six said that life at the camp became normal after a while, but that day-to-day life was still rough for his family.
“It was stressful, we never knew anything that was happening in our hometown.”
'NEVER GIVE UP HOPE'
“We were only thinking about our hometown being liberated,” he says. “But we were happy at the camp because we were all there together. All of Karemles.”
He says that he and the other children of the camp were taught to stay vigilant.
“They told us to never give up hope. We learned a lot in the camp. In school, they taught us that when we go back home to not touch anything because of bombs that still might be there.”
It has been estimated that a dozen Christian families fled Iraq each day during the ISIS occupation of the northern half of the country. Christians who have managed to escape ISIS have fled to Europe and Lebanon. Others simply wandered the region avoiding U.N.-operated refugee camps for fear that Muslim refugees in the camps would target them. Previous relief efforts provided to the region have helped at least 13-14,000 families remain in the region, but another 6,000 have yet to return.
“I think it is worse than the situation with ISIS,” Father Behnam Benoka, the founder of
Father Benham says that the region is facing severe economic problems with a lack of work, especially for the young people of the region and that while the region has been clear of ISIS, more needs to be done to keep it secure.
“There is no clear vision for the security of the Nineveh Plain,” he says. “It’s a much-disputed region.”
TIME TO REBUILD
“I remembered how I used to play with my friends,”
His family is now renting a home a block away as they attempt to rebuild their homes and their way of life.
“We are so happy to return, even though our home is damaged,”
He also expressed concerns about how long his homeland will experience relative peace.
“We don’t trust the current situation,” he said. “We don’t know if we are safe from something like this happening again.”