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Meeron Chamoun shares vivid memories of children being kidnapped in Baghdad as his father, Majid Chamoun, and twin siblings Karol and Karaam listen in. Melissa Engle

Meeron Chamoun shares vivid memories of children being kidnapped in Baghdad as his father, Majid Chamoun, and twin siblings Karol and Karaam listen in. Melissa Engle

Iraqi refugee family recalls horrors of war in Baghdad

Gladys Terichow
August 14, 2008

AMMAN, Jordan – Meeron Chamoun is only 8 years old but he courageously shares vivid memories of children being kidnapped from his school in Baghdad and school closures resulting from bombings and threats of bomb attacks.

"They kidnapped 16 kids from my school," he said, explaining that kidnappings usually take place at the end of the school day when many students leave the school grounds at the same time.

Chamoun also remembers the explosions and threats of explosions in his school. "I felt very scared," he said. "I would go to school one day and then stay home for a few days."

Chamoun and his parents, Majid Chamoun and Missa Hanni, and his siblings, 6-year-old twins Karol and Karaam, now live in Amman waiting for resettlement in another country.

"We don’t have a future in Amman," said Hanni. "There is pain in this waiting but we know that someday things will change."

The lack of peaceful options to deal with conflicts in Iraq has resulted in a cycle of violence that has uprooted and displaced about 4.8 million people – about 2.8 million have found refuge in safer regions in Iraq and about 2 million have found safety in other countries, mainly Syria and Jordan.

This family is among 25,000 Iraqi Christians who have fled to Jordan, said Father Raymond Moussalli, who was sent in 2002 by the Chaldean Catholic Church in Baghdad to start a church in Amman for Chaldean Catholic refugees from Iraq.

Through financial donations from individuals and grants from Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) and other partner organizations, Father Moussalli's church provides a variety of services and programs to support Iraqi families, including youth programs, Sunday School classes, after-school programs, training programs, health services and humanitarian aid.

Father Mousalli said when he visits Iraqi refugees living in Jordan he senses their strong desire to return to their homes and families still living in Iraq but many cannot return until peace is restored in their home communities.

Majid Chamoun and Hanni were born in Baghdad. Chamoun, an engineer specializing in air conditioning and refrigeration, owned an electrical appliance shop.

Chamoun said he became a target for militant groups in 2004 because he had sold televisions and air conditioning units to the international military forces. In response to threats, he and the children fled to Amman for three months. His wife stayed with her family in Baghdad because she did not have a passport at that time.

He tried to re-establish his business when he returned to Baghdad but within a few months a gang of 10 men stole everything from his shop as a warning that he was not allowed to operate this business in that neighbourhood.

This time the whole family fled to Amman, but returned to Baghdad in October 2005 because they wanted to give Meeron the opportunity to go to school. Only in 2007 was new legislation passed in Jordan that gives all Iraqi children there access to Jordanian schools.

Chamoun once again tried to open his shop in Baghdad but these plans ended abruptly on Dec. 20, 2005, when the militants placed a bomb in his shop and burned down his shop. Two days later they sent threatening letters to his house. "This was their way of letting me know that they knew where I lived," he said.

The family went into hiding but in March 2006 two men from this militant group came to the neighbourhood asking people if they knew the whereabouts of "Majid, the engineer." When the men parked their vehicle in front of the house where he and his family were hiding he went to the vehicle to talk with the men.

"They said, we want you to work with us to make explosives – we will give you the money that you want," Chamoun said, explaining he was offered the job because the militants needed an experienced engineer. He knew that rejecting this job offer would put his life in jeopardy but it was a risk he was willing to take.

The family tried to hide in another neighbourhood but within a few months they were found. "In June 2006, we left Baghdad for the last time," said Chamoun, adding he does not expect that it will ever be safe enough for him to return.

In the meantime they find support from the church and place their hope in resettlement in another country. They are not allowed to work in Jordan where their stay is viewed by the government as temporary. They get some financial assistance from relatives who have already resettled in other countries.