Iraqi Priest Saves Thousands from ISIS

Iraqi refugees

A young Iraqi priest living in Jordan has helped more than 2,000 people escape from the clutches of the Islamic State in Iraq by personally sponsoring their entry into Jordan, securing them food and lodging, and facilitating their international recognition as refugees.

Like a modern-day Oskar Schindler, 35-year-old Father Nour al-Qusmusa is dedicating his life and ministry to rescuing victims of ISIS in his home country after having brokered a deal with the Jordanian government, The Economist reports.

Working with Caritas, a Catholic charity, Fr. Nour provides the refugees with food and shelter. So far, some 2,200 people have managed to escape from the Islamic State into Jordan thanks to the cleric.

“We came to Jordan because of the priest. He helps everyone,” said Karim, a Christian Iraqi accountant, who fled Iraq with his wife and children when ISIS seized Mosul in June 2014.

According to the report, Karim and his family would still be in Iraq were it not for Fr. Nour, who intervened to help them escape.

Iraqi refugees face a series of bureaucratic hurdles that are hard to overcome without assistance. While Syrians entering Jordan automatically get refugee status or aid, Iraqis do not. They need to obtain a visa, often weeks in advance, and must pay for a return ticket to Iraq or demonstrate sponsorship within Jordan.

This is where Father Nour steps in. From his home base in Amman, he acts as an intermediary between the refugees, the Jordanian government, local host churches and Caritas.

He works with several different churches across Jordan who have opened their doors to Iraqi Christian refugees, the majority from Mosul and Qaraqosh in the north. Many live in the parishes themselves, with rooms divided by particle board.

The approximately 30,000 Iraqi refugees in Jordan cannot formally work. Instead they carry out different chores and wait, hoping eventually to relocate to Western countries to join relatives.

In order to receive aid, Iraqi refugees in Jordan must pass UNHCR’s “Refugee Status Determination” test to ascertain whether they are really fleeing persecution. The process takes months, and many are denied status. “There is no future for Iraqi Christians in the Middle East,” says Father Nour. “I ask for the prayers of my people to be fulfilled.”

The Vatican recently pledged financial support to help individual families still living in the churches to find an apartment and pay for 12 months of rent upfront.

Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome