CCD Special Correspondent: Escape from ISIS

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by Camel City Dispatch

By Waging Peace

“This man escaped from ISIS!”, my guide exclaimed as we quickly walked through the dark, trash filled streets. He suddenly stopped, looking over his shoulder saying, “No one escapes from ISIS”.

We get to the door, knock and walk into the room. A muscular man about 45 years old walks toward us. He’s strong, he commands respect, yet his face shows fatigue, his body weariness. I’m introduced to Nashwan, he begins to tell me his story. He’s in Jordan as a refugee from Iraq where he was a member of the Iraqi National Police, a member of their bomb squad, and that over his career he’s diffused 17 bombs.

On a sunny day in 2014 the ISIS militia suddenly arrived near his home in the Ninawa Valley close to Mosul. Nashwan and his family are Christian, so he sends his wife and children away while he goes to get his mother. He arrives there to find she’s left with neighbors. That’s when Diash as ISIS is called in Arabic, captures Nashwan. He’s held for 18 days in a remote location, being tortured for not converting to Islam and for information. It seems he’s kept alive as they hope to learn about the National Police. He’s treated as a slave, forced to clean and serve the group, only receiving a little bread and water each day.

On the 18th day Nashwan is recognized by a friend who’s forced to bring ISIS food. They make a hasty plan, knowing it could cost his friend’s life. Nashwan sneaks out of the house, into the car. Unbelievably after some minutes his friend is able to walk to the car and drive him away.

isis- file photo
isis- file photo

Nashwan tells me his friend drives him to the Kurdish border, where he approaches border guards explaining who is and what’s happened, but instead of being welcomed he’s quickly arrested and imprisoned. The Kurdish officials don’t believe him, suspecting him of being an ISIS spy, because, as we heard earlier, no one escapes ISIS. He’s held, again being tortured as the Kurds seek information on ISIS. Nashwan pauses as he recounts it all. I suddenly realize I exhale deeply trying to release tension. He gathers himself and continues. At the end of three weeks he’s brought into a court. With his arms and legs chained he walks before the judge. He looks up and sees a family friend, a friend of his father. The judge quickly recognizes him, and orders his release. Nashwan tells me that after he’s freed he discovers his wife and children have escaped to Jordan and may be in a refugee camp or one of the impoverished urban areas where many refugees have fled. With help, he’s able to make the journey from Kurdistan to Jordan, crossing the border, eventually making his way to Amman, beginning the exhaustive search for his family.

This isn’t as easy as one might think. Before being placed into UN camps refugees arriving in Jordan were able to live anywhere in the country. Slum-lords have taken advantage of people in great need, charging high rents for the most deplorable conditions – several families living in a three room apartment, no furniture, eating, sitting, and sleeping only on thin mats on the floor – people barely surviving, living in the shadows, living in obscurity.

He doesn’t go into detail how he finds them (I can tell he’s growing weary of talking), yet Nashwan locates his wife and children, and this bomb diffuser settles into the slums where other refugees are living.

Just as with any cross-section of humanity, refugees fleeing war and terror are dealing with the same health issues we all do. Illness is no respecter of persons, or of circumstance. Soon after locating his family, Nashwan’s wife is diagnosed with breast cancer. He pauses making sure all of this sinks in. At this point, it’s nearly too overwhelming to hear. I look at my guide who frowns and nods.
As this bomb-diffuser wipes a tear, I’m not sure what to say, what English words of compassion he would understand. My heart is pounding, my head starts hurting from holding back tears. I swallow hard. Look down, look back up and manage to say I’m sorry in Arabic. He tenses a little, he looks me square in the eye with his face contorted in pain and anger and asks, “We Christians are dying for our faith, why don’t the Christian nations help us?”

I’m not sure what to say. To attempt to explain the legal logistics to one who’s suffered like this would be incredibly inappropriate, devaluing his suffering, and that of millions (yes millions) of others. I know the question has two purposes – to seek to understand why refugees are so slow to be resettled by Western countries, those that identify themselves as Christian; and most importantly I think, to express his anger.

I explain that I’m here to help aid refugees, to gather and share their stories, and I promise Nashwan I’ll share his.


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