When ISIS invaded the Nineveh Plain, life became very difficult for many of the refugees American FRRME supports. However, due to Iraq’s war-torn history, the Baltoo family (names have been changed to protect the family’s identity) experienced hardship long before this. Sander, the father of the family of seven, had moved his growing family from Qaraqosh to Baghdad in hopes of finding work to support them. There, Sander was targeted by Al Qaeda because his brother worked for the U.S. government/military as an engineer. As an immediate family member of someone directly working for and supporting the U.S., as well as a devout Syrian Orthodox Christian, Sander was targeted and kidnapped in 2009. He was taken from his family at gunpoint, pushed into an unmarked underground tunnel in the middle of nowhere, blindfolded, beaten, and ultimately abandoned and left for dead without food or water. It was essentially a “living grave.” Sander spent 4 days alone in the dark hole in the ground, thinking he would never see his family again. Injured by the beatings and brutality experienced at the hands of his kidnappers, Sander prayed desperately that he would be rescued and reunited with his family. Four days later, his prayers were answered. He was found and liberated by U.S. forces, who let him out of the hole in the ground.
Here is cell phone footage of Sander’s liberation.
Though Sander was reunited with his family, he suffered greatly from this experience. He lost all hearing in his left ear due to the beatings and experienced flashbacks and panic attacks. The kidnapping was only the beginning of the hardships his family would experience. In its aftermath, Sander struggled to provide for his family. He continued to have flashbacks. His family was still receiving threats. They no longer felt safe in Iraq. They made their way to Erbil and continued to struggle, getting by through the support of the Syrian Orthodox Church and other Christians. Once ISIS invaded, they fled to Jordan. They now live in Marka, one of the poorest areas of Amman, the entire family crowded into a one-bedroom apartment. Sander, still experiencing panic attacks and flashbacks, struggles to provide basic necessities for his family. His youngest child has many medical problems and has had head surgery. The family is unable to pay rent, medical expenses, and put food on the table, so they often have to choose which the biggest priority is. However, despite these ever-present hardships, what has remained unwavering throughout each ordeal on their journey has been their faith. And without the support of the Syrian Orthodox Church (one of American FRRME’s longstanding partners), the Baltoo family and families like them would have no means of support.
American FRRME is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that promotes reconciliation, provides
relief efforts, advances human rights and seeks an end to sectarian violence in the Middle East.