BEIRUT (AP) — Syrian and Iraqi Christians pleaded for more international assistance Tuesday from new homes in Lebanon where they recently arrived after fleeing attack by militants from the Islamic State group.
They spoke in two Beirut churches where they lined up to receive food baskets and other humanitarian assistance from a non-profit organization called In Defense of Christians (IDC), whose mission is to protect Christians in the Middle East.
"We used to live like kings in our land, our sons had free education; we had everything. Look at me now," cried a small, middle aged woman from Tel Nasri, a predominantly Assyrian village in Syria's northeastern Hassakeh province, standing on the side of a road with two new mattresses and a food basket she had just collected.
IS overran a cluster of Assyrian villages in Hassakeh last month, taking at least 220 Christians hostage. Around 25 have been released since, but the fate of the remaining captives is unclear.
The militants who control about a third of Iraq and Syria have also targeted cultural heritage sites in territories they control in northern Iraq, looting and damaging the ancient city of Hatra and bulldozing the historic city of Nimrud as well as other important sites from the once-mighty Assyrian Empire.
The woman from Tel Nasri, who spoke on condition of anonymity for security reasons, said she fled to Lebanon last week with her two children, leaving behind her husband to guard the house. "I ask for nothing except for Lebanese authorities to help us with the rent," she said.
Thousands of Christians have trickled into Lebanon in recent years from Iraq and Syria after being forced by IS to choose between leaving, facing death or paying a traditional tax on no-Muslims. At least another 240 Assyrian refugees have who arrived since the late-February IS attack on Christian villages in Hassakeh province.
Alexi Moukarzel, IDC representative in Beirut, said Christians are being pushed out of their land and their "identity is being broken." He said his organization was distributing 4,000 food baskets for 2,500 families, and called for major international action in support of the refugees.
Iman Chamoun, a 42-year-old woman, fled the Iraqi city of Mosul around nine months ago, after IS militants swept in.
"They took everything, the house, furniture, they even took the doors. The work of 25 years was lost in one minute... It's like living a dream, a nightmare," she said.
She said the family of seven fled without any money or belongings and is struggling in Lebanon to make ends meet.
"But we are Christians, despite everything we give thanks to God," she said.