‘It’s like hell,’ says newly-arrived Chaldean immigrant from Iraq

(Left) Gougees Zekia Ishak sits with his son, Firas Mader who recently came from Iraq with his wife and a 3-year-old daughter. Photo by Aftab Borka/THE OAKLAND PRESS

By Aftab Borka, The Oakland Press
When Firas Mader’s brother in Iraq was traveling with his pregnant wife to move to the Kurdistan region for safety, he had to wait in a long line of desperate families fleeing Iraqi cities where fighters of the Islamic militant group, known as ISIS, were running down their properties. His wife delivered the baby at the border without any medical help.

Mader, 35, who recently arrived in the U.S., said that is how life is like for Chaldeans and other minority religious groups in Iraq.

“It’s like hell. It’s miserable,” said Mader, who owned an office supply shop in the Karakush region before fleeing the city because he feared for his family’s life. Mader now stays at his father’s home in Sterling Heights with his wife and a 3-year-old daughter.

He considers himself lucky because not everyone gets a chance to move out of the crisis-hit region.

“They take everything. They take their business. They take their cars. They take their money,” Mader said through an interpreter, describing the atrocities committed by the militant armies.

Recent estimates by the United Nations suggest over one million Iraqis have been displaced due to the ongoing violence.

The St. Thomas Chaldean Catholic Diocese local office in Southfield has been helping and advocating for the plight of Iraqi refugees.

Their spokesman, Auday Arabo, says he hopes the United States will allow more refugees to come here and save their lives.

“We need to help those minorities who want out of Iraq with safe passage,” he said.

Mader’s father, Gougees Zekia Ishak, said the Islamic militants in Iraq are applying centuries-old religious rules where the minorities are forced to convert or risk losing their lives and properties.

In a recent statement, a local council of Islamic leaders in Royal Oak has condemned the actions of ISIS in Iraq.

“ISIS’ actions of mass executions, ethnic cleansing of Christians and other religious minorities, desecration of shrines, mosques and churches are against the teachings of Islam,” the statement said.

But for Mader, actions matter more than words. He said he still has two brothers and four sisters with their families in Iraq who are desperately looking for ways to get out of there.

He knows there are no easy solutions to their problems, but he still has a wish.