Middle East #1: Convert or die – the ISIS ultimatum

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Hack presenter Tom Tilley is in Jordan reporting on the Middle East refugee crisis.

You get three choices, pay the Islamic State tax, convert or die.
Then the first choice is taken off the table. That makes it quite simple. Convert or die.
On my first day here in Jordan I came face to face with Iraqi Christians who had less than an hour to flee the advancing Islamic State. Standing in the bustling refugee processing centre in Amman, an Iraqi family tell me their story.

  1. It was June in Mosul and many thought the Peshmerga forces would stop the murderous militants from swamping their city. They were wrong.Time was short, hundreds of Christian families grabbed a few belongings and jumped in their cars heading East towards Irbil. But swathes of people with the same idea meant a 1.5 hour drive turned into a 20 hour journey from hell.They made it, and thanks to Peshmerga forces Irbil provided a safe haven for a few months. But the escalating violence has destroyed any hope these Iraqis had of a future in their home country.In the last two weeks over 800 Iraqis have arrived in Jordan seeking resettlement, according the UNHCR. They are now living on church floors amongst the Amman and Zarqa Christian communities.

  1. While the Iraqi families consider their resettlement options, Jordan is being faced with it’s own Islamic State ultimatum. The rise of the brutal jihadis has forced countries like Jordan to choose between security and humanity.As we walk through hundreds of refugees at the UNHCR’s Amman processing centre, the organisation’s head Andrew Harper tells me that fear of Islamic State militants crossing the border has been a game changer here in Jordan and other neighbouring countries.


  1. “The humanitarian focus has now been surpassed by the security focus,” Andrew Harper goes on to explain that in the last month very few refugees have been allowed to cross the Syrian border in Jordan. October was the lowest intake in two years.

That’s created a nightmare situation where vulnerable Syrian refugees fleeing the Islamic State are starting to pile up at the border.

  1. Andrew Harper tells me there are 5000 asylum seekers piled up at Jordan’s eastern border crossing with Syria.
  1. “Anyone who is stuck at a border and is not allowed in is a massive concern because it’s my job to make sure that people fleeing violence have access to safety.”It’s obviously a tricky balance. While Jordan has been incredibly generous in accepting over 600,000 refugees they are now part of the US led coalition at war with the Islamic State.