As a withered woman roamed the gates of refugee camps in Iraq, constantly drawing attention as she carried a large photo of her little girl with the hope that someone would recognize her.
She is among more than half a million Iraqis have been displaced from the city of Mosul, troubled by the fierce battles. Many camps have been hastily built to absorb around 10,000 people each.
The woman in question, Christina’s mother, is found moving constantly between camps with a poster of her daughter who was 3 years old when she was kidnapped by ISIS militants. The little girl was mercilessly grabbed off her shoulder when over 70,000 Iraqi Christians fled Mosul in July, 2014.
Christina would be six today if she is still alive. Her mother lives in Bahraka camp, in the city of Arbil, which includes thousands of Christian refugees who fled from Mosul after ISIS seized the surrounding villages.
A team working for the “Death-Making” - a program on Al Arabiya - headed to the camp to speak with Christina’s mother. The families housed in the camp know each other as most of them have been displaced together from the area of Qaraqosh. The story of Christina's mother is one of the touching stories that all camp residents sympathize with.
“My husband, a blind man, was sick and unable to escape. I sent my older children to run away with people in town. I stayed behind with my husband and younger daughter, Christina, and I thought she would be safe, no matter how cruel they were. I didn’t expect them to hurt my little girl. What would make them hurt a little girl like her or even a woman?”
“We were told that we must convert to Islam, pay ‘jizya,’ (a form of taxation) or leave the city. I told them that we will think about it and asked for more time. My husband was recovering, so I took him and carried my daughter on my shoulders looking to leave the city. However, she was then captured and I had to go back to Qaraqosh and beg them to return my daughter.”
Christina’s mother added: “I was surprised a few days later when I went to see the head of the unit (a 50-year-old Tunisian) that he was carrying her and she was sitting on his lap. I cried and begged for her return. He pointed to one of the fighters to send me outside …this armed man told me they would cut my head off if I remained in the city one more day. I left with my husband feeling my heart bursting out of my chest.”
Although this story took place three years ago, the negotiations between Christina’s mother and ISIS militants were pushed through mediators in Qaraqosh as well as Mosul. The responses were always disappointing, but the mediators sent her a recent photo in which Christina looked happy and in good health. However, they told her never to ask about her child again.
No one can justify precisely why the leader of the organization in Qaraqosh held on to this helpless girl. She is too small to be taken into captivity, although some horrifying tales related to child sexual abuse continue to surface. There are other explanations suggesting that one of the fighters decided to adopt the girl and save her from “hell”.
All these theories only mean tears and never-ending sorrow for Christina’s mother. She prays every day to reunite with her daughter and for that dream she crosses dozens of kilometers every week to the camps. A large photo of her missing child has been spotted every now and then and has even been rescued from the flames in the streets of Mosul.
A touching moment was Christina’s mother taking out her daughter’s garments that would fit an older girl. The mother tearfully explained that “whenever good people distribute clothes to the refugees, I imagine Christina growing up. So I pick something appropriate for her age and I am full of hope she will use it some day…”