A petition signed by more than 800,0000 people was presented at the United Nations Tuesday, urging the protection of Christians and other persecuted minorities in Iraq and Syria post-ISIS.
The 'Hope for the Middle East' petition created by Open Doors calls on the UN to work with religious leaders to maintain peace and rebuild Iraq and Syria.
"We all hope to have our full rights in Iraq… This is the most important thing we need to continue staying in Iraq," Father Behnam Lallo, a Syriac Catholic priest from northern Iraq, who is also part of the delegation told the World Watch Monitor. "The material things are really important. But to continue staying, to continue existing, we need to gain our full rights as real citizens of Iraq."
Another Iraqi priest, Father George, who is working to rebuild Qaraqosh, said the petition is "very important for Christians here because … our issue … will be empowered by support of other Christians in the world. So the political decision will be made stronger as well, to support our life here and to stay here in this land".
The petition was handed over by 12-year-old Noeh and his father, Hathem. They were forced to flee their hometown of Karamles in northern Iraq when ISIS raided the area.
"I feel very sad about what happened," Noeh said during a video documenting his first visit back home since ISIS was defeated. "Still I am very eager to return to my village. This is our land."
While shuffling through the burnt-out remains of his bedroom, Noeh found a stash of marbles he used to play with. He brought these physical memories of his childhood with him to New York to give to those in leadership positions at the United Nations. He hopes the marbles will make them remember his people and their need to rebuild.
Meanwhile, Syrians and Iraqis are slowly returning to their homes, not sure if they'll have home to return to.
"There's this feeling of insecurity about the future," Philos Project President Robert Nicholson told CBN News. "They're wondering, 'okay, it's okay now, but is there a future going forward for me and my family."
Nicholson said even though ISIS may be defeated in Iraq, the battle isn't over.
"We know that ISIS as an organization has been pushed back but the ideology that drives ISIS is still in the air. Many people have renounced ISIS but many others have sort of gone below the surface. So, there's for sure a fear that ISIS, or the people that founded ISIS will reemerge as 'ISIS 2.0'," he added.
The Philos Project is working to help persecuted Christians in Iraq and Syria and were part of the effort to get the Trump administration to work directly with organizations on the ground. Vice President Mike Pence announced in October that the US State Department will favor sending aid to "faith-based groups" because he said UN agencies "often failed to help the most vulnerable communities, especially religious minorities."
"All of our aid money, our hard earned tax payer dollars go through the United Nations, which go through other organizations. By the time the dollar gets to Iraq it is ten cents, if it gets there at all," Nicholson said. "Why give money to third parties to give to the ground when we can just give to the ground? What president Trump and Vice President Pence have done is actually give our money directly to communities, believing that they actually know how to spend the money."