We in ADFA and Syriac League meet and are in constant contact with refugees in need of help. The following is the story of one family.
They live on the outskirts of Beirut in terrible conditions. And have lost hope. They are in limbo. They fled Iraq for their faith, escaping to Lebanon where there is religious freedom. From here, they had hoped to move on to some country in the western world, but they got stuck, and became undocumented refugees instead.
We meet the Antar family in a worn-out basement storage space in an apartment building in Beirut. The room is about 14 square meters. There is access to a toilet and to cold water, but no hot water or shower. The family consisting of Odai (41), Salwa (37) and the children Saher (10) and Samer (6) live in this tiny space. They received their Spartan accommodation in exchange for Samer working as a kind of handyman for the property owner.
Previously, the family lived in Mosul, Iraq, where Odai was born. His wife, Salwa, was born in Zakho, Iraq. Before Isis invaded Mosul in the summer of 2014, Odai worked as a taxi driver within Mosul’s city limits. Salwa ran a hair salon out of their home that was across the street from the Syriac Orthodox Church. Although the political situation could be worrying from time to time, they had good financial resources.
The area they lived in was called Hay El Shifaa which was a Christian neighborhood. When Isis invaded in the summer of 2014, everything was as usual. They heard that Islamist militias attacked Mosul but that the army held their positions and struck back. It was also rumored that the militias were of the old Baath party.
When Mosul fell (June 14, 2014) the Antar family fled for their lives to the Nineveh plains. While in the Nineveh Plains, they were told that the militias didn’t intend to persecute Christians, that they only rebelled against the Shi’a-dominated Iraqi state.
When the family returned to Mosul, they discovered that they had been deceived. Isis drove around in cars along the streets, shouted out through loud speakers that non-Muslims had to convert or flee and leave everything they owned or die. The family again chose to flee, first to Qaraqosh and then to Zakho, Iraq. The life in Zakho was difficult, there were no jobs and the children didn’t go to school.
The family therefore went to Lebanon with the hope of being able to obtain asylum in the West through the UN Refugee Agency. But the hope of regaining something similar to the life they had has slowly but surely evaporated since then. They have now been in Beirut for three and a half years and are still waiting for something to happen. In connection with the liberation of Mosul, their old home was bombed by the alliance against Isis and today all that remains is rubbish and dust of what was once the Christian district of Hay El Shifaa and the life they once had.
The situation for the Antar family is getting worse and worse every day. You can tell by looking at Odai and Salwa that the stress and strain of recent years has affected them severely. Two people who should be in the prime of life look like the living dead instead. Odai has problems with the heart and has difficulty doing the work required to support his family. Salwa does what she can to keep the family together but the stress is unbearable.
They are stuck in an unsustainable situation in Beirut and they have nothing to return to in Iraq. The life they had is gone and the life they have now is not a life. Their only hope is to get asylum in a democratic country where Christians are not persecuted.
Amar Sabri, Christoffer Axelsson and Babylonia Daniela Barhanna contributed to this report