SEWDINAN CAMP, Kurdistan Region –The journey out of ISIS-held western Mosul is already dangerous, but more so for Mariyam Petrayus , a blind woman seemingly in her late fifties who marched tens of kilometers to reach safety in a camp where displaced people live in the Kurdistan Region. She has lived there for three years under the harsh rule of the ISIS group. At least on one occasion, she recounts, an ISIS militant had asked her to convert to Islam, but she says she refused to do so.
Petrayus is Christian, and has sticked to it, despite being told by the extremist group to change her religion.
“He told me ‘why don't you convert to Islam? Why are you Christian?’” Petrayus said as she tried to get warm near a fire, following a long journey in cold weather.
“I told him that everyone is on their religion, and nobody leaves their religion.”
Then the exchange between her and the ISIS militant heated, when she told the militant she did not want to be like him.
“‘I do not want to become one like you,’ I told him,”
“He asked 'why? What is wrong with me?'”
“I told him ' you don't say your prayers, you kill humans, you earn haram [sinful] earning, and you harass people.'” the old woman said.
“He said, 'me?'. I said 'yes'.”
“He said no. I said yes, ‘I swear to God’.”
She was among some 6,000 people who have fled Western Mosul to a new camp which was built recently to receive a new wave of civilians who flee the unfolding war in the city where the advancing Iraqi forces fight ISIS in the densely-populated right bank of Mosul.
About a three quarter of a million civilians are estimated to have been trapped in the western half, and the war shows no signs of a close end, meaning that more and more people are expected to flee.