Mosul and Raqqa will never be the same again, say refugees

At camp in southern Lebanon, 'trust destroyed'

05 May, 10:00

    (by Alberto Zanconato) (ANSAmed) - MARJAYUN (SOUTHERN LEBANON), MAY 5 - One day the Islamic State (ISIS) will leave, but Syria and Iraq will never be the same again.

    This is clear from the fear and hatred that fills the speech of both Muslim and Christian refugees that have arrived from ISIS ''capitals'' in the two nations, Raqqa and Mosul, and who are now in southern Lebanon near the border between Syria and Israel, where artillery rounds and rockets can be heard. On the Golan Heights, about 15 kilometers away, the battle continues between the Syrian regime and Islamist rebel groups including the local Al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat Al-Nusra. At a lower altitude in Marjayoun, amid the green hills of spring and flowering peach blossoms, live thousands of refugees that have arrived over the past four years of civil war. The refugees are gathered into small groups of tents and shacks, often divided up depending on location of origin. In the Sarada one there are some 160 people from the northern Syrian province of Raqqa, which since 2013 has by under ISIS control. The men tell of the atrocities committed by the jihadists and the life of fear of those remaining. Brahim, a man of about 40 years old who acts as head of the community, said that among those that have not fled are those belonging to a tribe that joined forces with ISIS and collaborated with them. ''When I go back I will not be able to trust them any longer,'' he said, ''and they will have to deal with retaliation from the state and the people.'' A few kilometers further north, in a house on the Marjayoun outskirts, a Iraqi Christian family is housed that fled from Qaraqosh, near Mosul. The also speak of collaboratists, and say that when ISIS arrived the entire Sunni population joined them. ''Our neighbors were the ones to sack our home,'' said Nasser Jebbo, who with his brother and the families of both got to Lebanon through a network of churches.

    ''Even if ISIS leaves,'' said his wife, ''how will we ever be able to return? Who will guarantee that in a year or two the same won't happen. What we want is just to leave. To Canada, maybe, since we have relatives there. Otherwise wherever we can, but far from Iraq for the future of our children, since it's all over for our generation.'' This is what hundreds of thousands of Iraqi Christians have already done since the fall of Saddam Hussein's fall in 2003. ''It is since then,'' Nasser said, ''that our life has changed. The women have had to begin covering themselves with a headscarf when they left their homes, and Islamic pressure rose.

    But we would never have imagined an invasion like the ISIS one.'' To the question of whether he would feel safer with Shias, he answered ''no. For us, they are all Muslims''. The men from the Sarada camp are Sunni - as is ISIS - but fled Raqqa and now, Brahim says, they feel ''safe thanks to Hezbollah'', the Lebanese 'Party of God' that controls this region in southern Lebanon. However, they do not like Syrian president Bashar Al-Assad, who Hezbollah and Iran are helping in the conflict. One instead blames the Western media, saying ''you made ISIS seem like some irresistible force, but in reality it was the Syrian army that withdrew without a fight in Raqqa, in agreement with'' the jihadist group. The conversation then turns to practical problems, like the snakes and scorpions that will soon, in the hot season, be a problem in the shacks. The children attend scholastic courses organized by the Italian NGO Avsi in white tents on the Marjayoun plain. Some 20,000 Syrian children across Lebanon are able to continue their schooling thanks to this program, but 350,000 are left without education and are often sent by their families to work. The director of Avsi's Lebanese office, Marco Perini, stops to talk to the children and reminds parents that they must attend classes in the hope that the younger generation will be able to get past the fear and hate. (ANSAmed).

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