12 August 2014
In recent days, Christian Aid’s Ann Ward has met families petrified of Islamic State militants sweeping across parts of northern Iraq.
At 11pm on 6 August, sleeping civilians woke to the terrifying message that Islamic State (IS) militants had entered their villages in Ninewa.
A frantic escape
Families grabbed what they could and ran for their lives to cars and taxis. Some families spent up to 13 hours travelling to Erbil, usually a one hour journey by car.
Many without transport walked in the 45°C heat, waiting for up to seven hours at security checkpoints with thousands of others desperately trying to escape the terror.
Many left their cars while waiting at the checkpoint, worried that IS militants would arrive at any minute. Some braved gunfire as they crossed the path of fighting between IS militants and Kurdish Peshmerga forces.
Seeking sanctuary in churches
Over 34,000 individuals displaced from the Ninewa area have passed through the Sulaymaniyah checkpoint in recent days – all in search of refuge. All in fear of their lives.
Hundreds of displaced families, many of them Christian, have begun arriving at churches in the city of Sulaymaniyah. Many arrived in their pyjamas, having left home hurriedly.
First they sought sanctuary in Erbil, but when the churches in Erbil became so overcrowded that people began sleeping in public parks, they journeyed on to Sulaymaniyah in search of space.
They came with little money and few belongings. Some women have newborn babies; many have children. All of them were scared to death and showing signs of trauma.
Since the three city churches have been filled, a secondary school has been opened for additional families and many tears have been shed as they talk about leaving their homes and businesses and losing everything.
Many talked of never returning home again. They just want to leave Iraq. They say they are not wanted here. They talk of going to Turkey or Lebanon - anywhere but Iraq.
The protection of all people
We are appealing for the protection of all people, including persecuted religious minorities such as the Yazidis and Christians – the hundreds of thousands who have fled in fear of their lives.
Providing vital aid
Our long-term partners in Iraq, who have already been responding to the ongoing displacement of communities, have started providing urgent humanitarian relief to those who have fled in recent days.
Our partner REACH has distributed hygiene kits to families who have just arrived in Sulaymaniyah.
Please help us to scale up our efforts to respond to the growing and desperate crisis sweeping across parts of the country by giving what you can to our Iraq Crisis Appeal.