Tuesday, March 31, 2015

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Erbil, Iraq, Mar 31, 2015 / 04:02 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The woman was just 19 years old when she was captured by militants from the Islamic State. Caring for her young son and pregnant with her second child, she was separated from her husband and told that she would be forced to marry a member of ISIS.

Her harrowing story is not unique, but the fact that she escaped places her in the minority of those who face the similar terror of life as an ISIS captive.

The woman's name, and that of the village where she is staying with her two children, cannot be revealed for security reasons. CNA met her during a trip to Iraq with a papal delegation led by the Pontifical Council Cor Unum March 26-29.

On the wooden door of the room where the woman speaks with the pontifical delegation, a phrase in English is embossed: “God is Lord.” The woman holds her son in the hands, while her mother-in-law is taking care of the younger child, who is now four months. Her brother-in-law sits on her right.

She sometimes takes a deep breath, and sometimes holds back her tears, as if she is living once more what happened. But she agreed to tell her story, because she wants everyone to know what happened.

In early August, Islamic State forces attacked Mahmur camp, a U.N.-run refugee camp home to some 12,000 Turkish refugees who fled in the early 1990s during the height of Turkey's conflict with Kurdish separatists. Mahmur is located in the vicinity of Erbil, and the residents there had established a school system and local government.

The attack was one of several similar military attacks in the region, part of ISIS’ major Northern Iraq offensive in the summer of 2014.

The woman said that she was taken by Islamic State militants on Aug. 5.

“As we had been aware that the ISIS forces were coming, we managed to escape,” the woman told CNA. “But those who had no opportunity to use a car moved more slowly, remained behind, and were then captured by the ISIS forces.”

She and her family were among some 3,100 people captured by the Islamic State. Of them, approximately 600 managed to escape while about 2,500 remained in the hands of Islamic State forces.

The woman recounted that “they divided into groups of male and female.”

“I was thus separated from my husband, and I have had no news of him ever since.”

After three days, Islamic State militants selected the married women and brought them into separate houses, where they stayed alone under the control of guards.

“After a couple of weeks of captivity, I was told by one of the guards that if I did not marry one of the ISIS members, they would have separate me from my child,” the woman recounted. “That very night I managed to escape.”

During the night of Aug. 28, the three guards watching her fell asleep, and she took advantage of the situation to get out of the house.

“I walked for four hours with my child, and myself pregnant. Then I was helped by an Arab family, who took me to the Peshmerga checkpoint, and I was then able to get to a refugee camp,” she said.

She then rejoined her brother-in-law and mother-in-law, who now all live together in the Dohuk governorate.

The woman’s brother-in-law told CNA: “We will always be grateful to the Peshmerga forces for helping us, but now we cannot trust anyone else. We would only trust an international force, sent to Iraq to end the war and bring finally peace.”


San Antonio, Texas, Mar 31, 2015 / 02:04 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Family detention centers across the U.S. are filling up with children and young mothers  who are seeking shelter from violence, abuse, and persecution in their Central American home countries - and U.S. bishops are not pleased with the policy.

The Church has stood against the policy of detention centers for women and children fleeing violence, saying that they are contrary to social teaching and the dignity of the human person.

Controversy over the practice of immigrant detention has sparked exasperation among Catholic bishops and Lutheran leaders who say family detention centers are shameful and place heavy burdens on families, while staining the moral character of American society.

"Why do we feel compelled to place in detention such vulnerable individuals - traumatized young mothers and children fleeing persecution in their home countries?" stated Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller of San Antonio in a March 27 statement following his visit to the detention center for immigrant families located in Dilly, Texas.

Archbishop Garcia-Siller was not alone in his indignation at the detention facilities - he was joined by Bishop Eusebio Elizondo Almaguer, auxiliary bishop of Seattle and chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on Migration, and Bishop James Tamayo of Laredo.

Other Christian leaders, including Michael Rinehart and H. Julian Gordy, both bishops of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, united with the Catholic bishops in their stance opposing the detention of families fleeing violence and domestic abuse, imploring goverment officials to end the practice.

As of last summer, multiple detention centers have opened across the U.S. as a result of approximately 60,000 migrant families fleeing Central America and seeking aslyum across the border - many of whom have viable international protection claims or have fled extreme violence, death threats, rape, and persecution.

Although there were only about 100 spots for detention in the entire U.S. in 2014, that number has jumped to thousands over the period of one year.
The Department of Homeland Security has detained these families at facilities in New Mexico, Texas, and Pennsylvania.

The bishops are afraid that the use of detention centers could turn into a means for migrant deterrance, which would make the immigration policy violative of international law, according to the USCCB.

Last month, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia ordered a preliminary injunction that halted the government's policy of detaining families solely for detterence purposes. The case was made on the behaf of families who are fleeing the credible fear of persecution and would have the possibility of granted asylum.

The family detention network is costly, employing around $2 billion taxpayer dollars per year.

"The detention of families serves no purpose and undermines due process. It especially harms children, who experience emotional and psychological harm from detention," stated Bishop Elizondo, saying the detention method marks a low point in American immigration policy.

Looking for other alternatives for families seeking asylum, Bishop Tamayo stated there are humane ways to deal with the buildup of immigrant families who are entering the United States.

"The government should consider placing these families in humane alternatives to detention, where they could live in the community and access needed services, including legal representation," he urged, saying the Church is ready to help in this effort.

Perhaps the most telling consequence of detention centers for families could be what the policy says about the moral character of society, suggested Archbishop Garcia-Siller.

"A great nation such as ours need not incarcerate the most vulnerable in the name of deterrence," the San Antonio bishop said.

"The moral character of a society is judged by how it treats the most vulnerable in our midst. Our nation's family detention policy is shameful and I impore or elected officials to end it."


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