On the terrible Monday night in June 2014 when the ancient Iraqi town of Mosul was invaded by Islamic State fighters, its young Chaldean archbishop was 5km away attending a youth celebration in the village of Tilfek.
So he was forced to join the exodus of Christians crammed into cars and trucks in week-long traffic jams escaping north to the Kurdish-controlled city of Erbil. He hasn’t been home since.
Today, Archbishop Amel Shamon Nona lives quietly in the western suburbs of Sydney, tending to his growing flock of Chaldean Catholics who have escaped unspeakable horrors, under the special humanitarian program for 12,000 Syrian and Iraqi refugees announced by the Abbott government in 2015.
Like refugees from communist regimes of an earlier era, these refugees from Islamist oppression will serve to inoculate Australia against the ideological violence that has driven them from their home. They will protect us against creeping Islamism because they have suffered its effects and know its warning signs.
“It is important to use these Iraqi Christians here in Australia,” he says, pointing out that Christians also integrate well into Australian society. “With our culture, our way of living, we integrate easily here.”
Archbishop Nona, 49, whose predecessor in Mosul was murdered by ISIS, has a blunt warning for the West about Islamism: “ISIS, the group, maybe they can be defeated, but ISIS as an ideology is everywhere, also in Australia. Where there are Muslims there it is. We know Arabic through YouTube and other things. We hear Muslim people in Europe, America and Australia and we know what they’re planning and how they think about people in this country. Not all Muslims but (a small group) are planning that all the world should be Islam and all the people in the world Muslims.”
His advice is that “Western people should be more strong, not to feel afraid from these (Islamist) mobs because they play with these kind of feelings… And the law in Western countries should be more strong against those who don’t want to respect the culture of this country and want to change that.”
In the past year more than 8000 refugees have arrived under the Abbott humanitarian intake.
At the time Tony Abbott made it clear the program was specifically intended for persecuted Christians and other minorities such as the Yazidis, who had been driven out of their homes in Syria and Iraq by ISIS.
But, ever since, open border enthusiasts and the UN have tried to subvert that intention by insisting that we don’t prioritise Christians but take Muslims from UN refugee camps.
The problem is exiled Christians in Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon do not live in UN camps because they are persecuted there, too. Instead they seek refuge with friends and family and through their church and Christian charities such as Aid To the Church in Need.
So, it is a tribute to Immigration Minister Peter Dutton that he has managed to work with church leaders such as Archbishop Nona to ensure that Christians living outside UN camps make up the bulk of the Abbott intake, believed to be 70 per cent. Archbishop Nona, whose new diocese covers all of Australia and New Zealand, has made 5400 refugee applications in the past year.
“Every day families are arriving here… We thank Australia for everything they do. Of course we want Christians to remain in Iraq but the reality is another thing.”
The homes Christians left behind in Mosul were marked with the Arabic letter N, for Nazarene, signifying they belonged to Christians and were fair game. Any Christians who hadn’t escaped were forced to convert to Islam, slaughtered or sold as sex slaves.
Even as villages are now being liberated from ISIS, Archbishop Nona says his flock won’t return.
“First days when these villages were liberated, they were very happy to go back,” he said. “But when they go and see what happened there, they are very very sad.
“Many of their homes are completely destroyed. Others there’s nothing in their house.
“More than 50 per cent of their neighbours were Muslims and when ISIS came to our villages they said to these people if you want to take anything (from the home of your Christian neighbour) you can take it and they took everything. It is another difficulty: how can someone go to live with his neighbour when he knows he was the first to take everything from his house. It’s not easy.”
He hopes that Iraq will one day “become a good country, a civil country (with) the constitution not built on Islamic sharia like now and for everyone to be a citizen regardless of his religion, but that’s very difficult.”
Meanwhile, his flock are keen to contribute to their new country.
You might find them stacking shelves at your local Coles supermarket, or washing dishes in their friend’s restaurant, while studying for further qualifications at night.
Originally published as Australia must help Christian refugees persecuted by ISIS