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updated: 8/17/2014 7:52 AM

Constable: Worried refugees in suburbs help families in Iraq

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  • An Iraqi woman and her son from the Yazidi community sleep at a park near the Turkey-Iraq border at the Ibrahim al-Khalil crossing, as they try to cross to Turkey.

      An Iraqi woman and her son from the Yazidi community sleep at a park near the Turkey-Iraq border at the Ibrahim al-Khalil crossing, as they try to cross to Turkey.
    Associated Press

  • Displaced Iraqis from the Yazidi community walk on the Delal bridge in Zakho, 300 miles northwest of Baghdad on Friday. The United Nations declared the situation in Iraq a "Level 3 Emergency" after some 45,000 members of the religious minority were able to escape from a remote desert mountaintop where they had been encircled by Islamic State fighters who vowed to kill any who did not convert to Islam.

      Displaced Iraqis from the Yazidi community walk on the Delal bridge in Zakho, 300 miles northwest of Baghdad on Friday. The United Nations declared the situation in Iraq a "Level 3 Emergency" after some 45,000 members of the religious minority were able to escape from a remote desert mountaintop where they had been encircled by Islamic State fighters who vowed to kill any who did not convert to Islam.
    Associated Press

  • This park near the Turkey-Iraq border has become a camp for refugees fleeing Iraq in the wake of attacks by Islamic militants. The United States conducted airstrikes against extremist strongholds while dropping supplies and food for the refugees.

      This park near the Turkey-Iraq border has become a camp for refugees fleeing Iraq in the wake of attacks by Islamic militants. The United States conducted airstrikes against extremist strongholds while dropping supplies and food for the refugees.
    Associated Press

  • Men, women and children from the Yazidi community gather at a park near the Turkey-Iraq border at the Ibrahim al-Khalil crossing in far northern Iraq, waiting for a chance to escape into Turkey.

      Men, women and children from the Yazidi community gather at a park near the Turkey-Iraq border at the Ibrahim al-Khalil crossing in far northern Iraq, waiting for a chance to escape into Turkey.
    Associated Press

  • Tens of thousands of displaced Iraqis from the Yazidi community have set up refugee camps in northern Iraq as they wait for a safe route into Turkey. The United Nations this week declared the situation in Iraq a "Level 3 Emergency" -- a decision that came after some 45,000 members of the Yazidi religious minority were able to escape from a remote desert mountaintop where they had been encircled by Islamic State fighters. The extremist group views them as apostates and had vowed to kill any who did not convert to Islam.

      Tens of thousands of displaced Iraqis from the Yazidi community have set up refugee camps in northern Iraq as they wait for a safe route into Turkey. The United Nations this week declared the situation in Iraq a "Level 3 Emergency" -- a decision that came after some 45,000 members of the Yazidi religious minority were able to escape from a remote desert mountaintop where they had been encircled by Islamic State fighters. The extremist group views them as apostates and had vowed to kill any who did not convert to Islam.
    Associated Press

 
 

The small Glen Ellyn studio apartment of this former Iraqi refugee sports a couch, a bed, a coffee table, a stone fountain he made, several pictures of Jesus and an empty stand.

"I sold my flat-screen TV and sent the money to my sister in Iraq," explains the 35-year-old man, who earlier this week had been using that TV to watch news of the refugees who fled to Mount Sinjar in north Iraq to escape the violence from the Islamic militant group known as ISIS. "She's running away from the mountain with her husband and two kids, far away from ISIS."

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The humanitarian crisis in Iraq, with stories of genocidal attacks on men, women and children, fueled renewed airstrikes from U.S. warplanes against militant strongholds. Other planes from the U.S. and now Germany dropped food and water for the trapped refugees. President Obama announced last week that the situation had improved to the point where the U.S. would not attempt an airlift of refugees.

It has been a few days since the refugee who resettled in Glen Ellyn has talked to his sister by phone, but he says he has gained confidence that she will make it safely out of Iraq. His parents fled their homeland 10 months ago with his younger brother and are in Turkey, where another sister fled with her husband and child.

"I sold my Toyota Camry and sent them the money," says the suburban refugee, who volunteers with World Relief in Wheaton, the charity that found him shelter when he arrived in the United States in 2009, helped him learn English, got him off food stamps and gave him the training to get a job as a maintenance worker and an apartment of his own.

At the request of World Relief, this column will keep the identity of refugees who've settled in the suburbs secret to reduce the chance of retaliation against loved ones still in Iraq.

"The last couple of years in Iraq have been very bad, especially for Christians," the man says. "The people who could run, ran. We have cousins all around the world -- Germany, Sweden, Australia. They all left."

He's trying to get his immediate family to the United States. Each year, the World Relief offices in DuPage County and Aurora and hundreds of volunteers work with more than 5,000 refugees from across the globe on issues such as housing, jobs and schooling. All need emotional support.

"We have people with full post-traumatic stress syndrome and people who just need some counseling," says Jennifer Stocks, a communication manager with World Relief in Wheaton. "All refugees have been traumatized."

That is especially true for a more recent refugee from Iraq, who still bears scars, both physical and emotional. He remains so fearful of retribution that he whispers details of his escape from Iraq.

"We have to be very smart. One word may let them know," he says. He repeatedly provides a detail, such as a place where he lived or a job he once had, and then admonishes "don't mention that." His eyes redden. He takes deep breaths. He wrings his hands. He says he is scared that he will say something that gives away his identity to ISIS agents who could seek retribution against him or his loved ones still in Iraq.

"They have agents everywhere," he says. "Even here."

A member of one of Iraq's minority religious groups, the man says he doesn't sleep at night. Media reports of mass killings in Iraq make him worry that his family, friends and neighbors might be victims. He says members of his faith often are given the choice of converting to Islam or being executed.

"What kind of Allah is that to encourage you to kill people, enslave people, rape children, bury whole families alive and cut throats by knife?" he says. "This is not the god of humans and humanity."

Both refugees say they came from the northern area of Iraq where members of Christian sects including Syrian Catholics, Chaldean Catholics, Nestorians and others once lived in peace alongside practitioners of the ancient Yazidi religion, as well as Muslims from factions including Sunnis and Shiites.

"Under Saddam (Hussein), there was no way to say no to Saddam," the recent refugee recalls. "Saddam was committing crimes, but he didn't bother us. We were happy with our lives. We loved our lives."

Christian churches, where it once was difficult to find a seat during services, became empty shrines after Hussein's regime toppled and smaller groups rose to power, says the Glen Ellyn man.

In speaking of the brutal oppression now in his homeland, the other refugee apologizes for rising to his feet and shaking his fists.

"It's an ugly game," he says, explaining how people c an be swayed by money and power.

"This is why we are in America, why we left Iraq," says the refugee who lives in Glen Ellyn, has his Green Card and hopes to become an American citizen in December.

"I'm about 80 percent happy. I work. I have money. I have food. I can talk freely. Muslims, Christians, anyone can live here," he says. "But when my family gets here, I'll be 100 percent."

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