By Harry Farley
An Assyrian Christian who fled Islamic State is fighting a British Home Office decision to deny him asylum and send him back to Iraq.
Sarmad Ozan, a 25-year-old former deacon of a church in Mosul, left the northern Iraqi town when ISIS took over in June 2014. Despite the horrific conditions Christians face in the Middle East, officials in the UK Home Office have blocked his claim for asylum on the basis he could return to Kurdistan or Baghdad, according to an interview with Russia Today.
Ozan said a “slow-motion genocide” was being committed against Iraqi Christians day-by-day.
“We were living, before 2003, without discrimination between people. You live with everyone without asking about their religion or anything. But after 2003 it become more difficult. When you are a Christian, when they deal with you, they talk with you, it’s in a different way,” he said.
“There are no Christians now in Mosul, a minority in Baghdad and the south, we are a minority everywhere inside Iraq and this is difficult for the people. They can make fake checkpoints to check for the Christian, they can kill them in the checkpoint.”
Ozan described the ISIS takeover of Mosul. He said at first they didn’t kill anyone – saying they only had an issue with the government, not ordinary people. He said that gave people who had fled the confidence to return to their homes before the real crackdown began.
“But in the next month, in July, they announced in the mosque three options for the Christians inside Mosul. They say you should convert to Islam, or pay jizya, that’s like a heavy tax, or be killed after this 24 hours. So every Christian family left Mosul that day.”
“They made checkpoints at the borders of Mosul where they checked identity cards, because your religion is on your identity card,” Ozan added.
“So whenever they see a Christian they grab everyone from the car and they take everything. So we left with nothing. We walked all that day towards Erbil. All the Christian families were walking that day.
“We arrived at night. Young people slept on the pavements, some people in tents, the church halls. We stayed in different places. Then we found a place in a church hall.”
Ozan is unable to apply for asylum in Iraq’s neighbouring Arab countries, but in 2015 he graduated with an engineering degree. He was then given a state bursary to study a masters in the UK. But after he arrived in Britain, violence spread across Iraq and his government scholarship money stopped, leaving him stranded. Feeling unable to return to the risk of death in Iraq, he applied for asylum.
“I’m still appealing because it’s impossible to go back to a place with nothing. Our house is taken by ISIS. Everything taken by ISIS. Even our neighbors are now supporting ISIS. So how can I go to a place where they are all supporting ISIS? It’s like someone going back to die. That means if they want to send me back, they want to kill me,” he said.
“The situation there is unsafe and unstable. Even the Home Office admit that it is unstable inside Iraq and don’t advise anyone to travel to Iraq, but they want us to go back.”
He added: “I want to live as a normal person. I want to live normally. Because from 2014 until now, it’s two years, I’m just waiting and not doing anything. Our lives, all our Christian lives in Mosul, are ruined by ISIS and we are still not doing anything. We want to continue our lives.”