Iraqi kids in Amerli receiving humanitarian aids. Photo: Europarl.europa.euIt was the first day of Ramadan last year (29 June) when ISIS proclaimed the caliphate. The following Friday, al-Baghdadi was shown in public in the great mosque in Mosul and the following months saw the expulsion of Christians from the villages on the plain of Nineveh, the massacre of the Yazidi and jihadist expansion in Iraq and Syria. Coincidence would have it that the first Friday of Ramadan, therefore exactly one year (according to the Islamic calendar) from the first public appearance of the “neo-Caliph”, I briefly visited the refugee camps set up in Erbil, capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, on the invitation of the Patriarchs Bechara Raï, from Lebanon, and Louis Sako, from Iraq.
The feelings between the priests and operators ranged from anger to exasperation. The priorities of the war have moved elsewhere and the recapture of Mosul and the plain of Nineveh has been postponed until a later date. Meanwhile, 125 thousand Christian refugees are in Kurdistan – and only represent part of the vast population of displaced persons – and although some progress has been made, such as reducing the camps from 26 to 7, the conditions in the various refugee camps are still tragic, especially with the arrival of the summer heat. But above all there is a lack of prospects for the future.
The meetings in Erbil were literally a punch in the stomach. No map, no geopolitical analysis bear comparison with the testimony of the victims. It is impossible to evade their insistent question: “What are you doing for us?”
I think that the first level of response must be humanitarian. Great efforts have been made, but the need is immense. Because of this, an even bigger surge of solidarity is needed. We must not leave anyone in tents! Let's set up schools to allow children and young people to spend their days productively! Let's bring back places of socialisation and employment for the refugees!
Then there is a second level to the matter. Many would like to return to their villages, which are now controlled by ISIS, but this is not realistically possible without military intervention. In this case I believe the principle of humanitarian intervention must apply, with the protection of victims and also of their executioners, because, as mentioned by Pope Francis, “Stopping the unjust aggressor is humanity's right but it is also the aggressor's right to be stopped so he does not cause any harm.” As Patriarch Sako recalled, this intervention, under UN auspices, must rely on local forces, overcoming the stagnation of an inconclusive and frayed international coalition.
The political level is equally important. In discussing the future structure of the Middle East, many have underlined the need to leave aside the discourse on the protection of minorities and decisively take the path of citizenship and rights for all.
The cause is not only Christian, it affects all those who have close to their heart a modern and peaceful Middle East. It will therefore be crucial to carry out educational work that will require decades to uproot the buds of jihadism from their origins, to use the words of the Patriarch Sako.
Humanitarian, military, political and educational dimensions: Iraq and neighbouring Syria, where the martyrdom of Aleppo, the new Sarajevo, is playing out, require coordinated action at multiple levels that is challenging and difficult. But one certainty is being imposed on Europe, which has withdrawn into itself: we must leave behind the myopic narcissism that imprisons us in calculations that are often empty. We must act and act now, simply because it is unacceptable that hundreds of thousands of people are still being driven from their homes or killed for religious reasons. This should be enough to elicit a commitment worthy of the best pages in our continent's history books.
* Editorial published by Corriere della Sera, Friday 26 June 2015