Last week, ISIS continued its campaign to establish an Islamic Caliphate in the Middle East, this time forcing 4,000 Christian families to flee their homes as they overran the city of Hassakeh. According to reports, at least 120,000 were part of the mass exodus. Most of the Christian families are seeking refuge in the nearby city of Qamishli.
Hassakeh is in northeastern Syria, where fighting has been growing more and more intense as of late.
Archbishop Jacques Behnan Hindo, the head of the Syrian Catholic Church in Hassakeh, was among the Christians fleeing the town. He said that although some fighters are gaining ground, not enough is being done to protect religious minorities.
“The Kurdish militias in the region have responded to the raids of Daesh [ISIS’s Arabic name] only when they attacked the Kurdish districts,” the Archbishop explained.
He also said that a significant part of the local population sympathizes with ISIS.
“One must also point out that a part of the local population is on the militants’ side: when these arrived in the south-eastern district of al-Nachwa, women and children were asked to leave the city. But young boys and adults remained, and have sided with Daesh,” he said.
“Now that very large neighborhood is at the center of the most violent clashes between government forces and those of the so-called Islamic State.”
None of the Christians who have fled are seriously injured, but their need for aid is rising now that they are forced to live in refugee camps.
The Catholic Near East Welfare Association, an aid group sanctioned by the Pope to provide pastoral and humanitarian support to the Middle East, is rushing supplies to the refugees from Hassakeh, but there are still fears that not every need will be met.
This news out of Hassakeh is not the first time in recent months that ISIS has forced, or tried to force, Christians out of their homes.
Only a few months ago, at least 36 Christian villages in Syria were evacuated due to fears of ISIS attacks.
In addition, a group calling itself ISIS’s Palestinian branch has also demanded that Arab Christians abandon Jerusalem by the end of the holy month of Ramadan, or else be “slaughtered like sheep.”
Some human rights organizations say that the situation in Hassakeh is similar to how Christian families fled Mosul in Iraq as ISIS advanced.
However, one important difference remains: while ISIS was able to secure Mosul with relative ease and little resistance, groups defending Hassakeh are still putting up something of a fight.