Anne and her family have now been granted asylum in Australia
Christians and other religious minorities were persecuted by ISIS
Many refugees feel they will never be able to return home
Anne Danyale can never go back to Mosul.
It has been two years since her family fled from the Iraqi city fearing for their lives, as ISIS ushered in a reign of terror.
As part of the local Christian population, there were only two choices facing Anne, her husband Sabhan and their two children: run or die.
“When we left it was all over for us,” she told CNN. “We lost our homes, our memories… everything.
“We even lost our jobs, which we had worked hard for all our lives… I don’t think we’ll ever go back. It’s too hard.”
Seeing the sea
It was in 2014, that I met Anne and her family after they had reached safety in Jordan.
Her daughter, Rita, was just seven and struggling to cope. She missed her toys, her own pillow and more than anything she missed Mosul, the place she called home.
She told us of her hopes and dreams and the desire to create a new life for herself in Australia because she had only ever seen the sea on television. She wanted to experience it in real life.
Battle for Mosul
Perhaps it was fate. Earlier this month the family received the news they had been waiting for – they had been granted asylum in Australia. They will travel there to begin a new life in the coming months.
But the prospect of yet more upheaval takes its toll.
Rita cried. She does not want to leave home again. She told her parents she did not want to leave her new friends behind.
Anne too had mixed feelings, the anxiety of moving to a country so far away with a vastly different culture will not be easy to adjust to – though she remains adamant that it is imperative for the welfare of her children.
“I do not want my children to live through the same experience again,” she said. “We paid the price and I don’t want to go back in a few years and go through it again.
“There is constant violence in Iraq. It’s never quiet. We had a much better life before the fall of the regime.”
Before the US-led invasion of 2003, Iraq was home to an estimated Christian population of more than a million. Christians had already become a target for extremist groups like al Qaeda long before the emergence of ISIS, but Anne’s family remained in Mosul.
Churches were bombed, Christians were kidnapped, killed and many followers living within the city were made homeless.
But it was the arrival of ISIS that persuaded Anne that it was time to leave. After capturing territory in northern Iraq, ISIS drove out the local Christian population and began to eviscerate any remnants of the religion from the area.
Photos showed militants vandalizing monasteries and churches, smashing statues and replacing the cross with their black flag of terror.
“They are trying to wipe out all our history,” Anne said, trying to hold back tears. “It is why they forced us out. But they don’t know that in our hearts we will remain Iraqis, and our grandchildren will always say they are from Mosul.”
Crammed into churches
There are now eight Christian families living in St Mary’s Church in Amman. It was one of several churches in the Jordanian capital that opened its doors to refugees who arrived paralyzed with fear, and with nothing but the clothes on their back.
Crammed into a room with just curtains separating the families from one another, this is now home.
Washing lines and baby push chairs cram the corridor. The families sit quietly, each with a cup of tea as they contemplate what happens next. They cannot go back.
Even now, as Iraqi forces and their allies launch a major offensive to reclaim Mosul, the prospects of returning appear bleak.
“There is no hope for them in Iraq,” Father Khalil Jaar, who has dedicated the past two years to helping refugees fleeing from Iraq and Syria, told CNN.
“We have a new arrival almost every week. We have families arriving from Mosul, Erbil and Baghdad.
“Those who could get out straightaway could come her to Jordan.”
‘We have to live our faith’
Father Khalil is constantly on the phone, helping guests and refusing to turn away those in need – whatever their religion.
The church provides meals for refugees on Fridays and Sundays, while it has also opened a school for the children with women from the local community making uniforms.
And yet for all the death and violence that has engulfed the region in recent years, Father Khalil says he draws strength from the spirit and resolve of the refugees.
“Perhaps Christianity will disappear from the Middle East,” he said.
“As a priest, I am not afraid because for the Christians, the believers, this is a holy land.
“We don’t have a temple, our churches have been destroyed, but it doesn’t matter – our heart is the temple of the Lord and so wherever we go, we have to live our faith.”
For Anne and her family, the church is now the place they call home. It is the only place her 10-month-old son, Joseph, has ever known.
Blissfully unaware of the harsh reality which has haunted his family, he claps and laughs as Rita entertains him.
Anne said she’ll tell him about Mosul one day, when he’s old enough to understand and grown accustomed to life in Australia.
For now, sitting at the shrine of the Virgin Mary, she lights a candle as she does every single day. She says that faith is all her family have to cling to.
“They say ours is a religion of forgiveness, but I will never forgive them,” she said of ISIS.
“What we witnessed and what we left behind… how they drove us out.
“I will never forgive them… I pray that God punishes them for what they did to us.”