CAN IRAQ'S CHRISTIANS RETURN HOME?
The war in the Middle East has had a massive impact on the whole region, but sadly the Christian community in Iraq have suffered greatly at the hands of the extremist group Daesh (ISIS). The extremists targeted and attacked Christians with the intention of wiping them out from their ancient homelands.
“So much has been destroyed by Daesh (ISIS). At least 50 percent of the homes on the Nineveh Plains have suffered destruction from these extremists – there are still hidden explosives in the villages,” Aid to the Church in Need’s Middle East expert Fr Andrew Halemba reported.
Iraq’s Nineveh Plains have been desolate since Daesh seized them in summer 2014, causing those living there to flee – most Christians sought sanctuary in the Kurdish capital Erbil where they have been cared for by the Church.
Shortly after Daesh was driven out at the end of 2016 Fr Andrew surveyed the villages, working with local Church personnel to assess whether Christians would be able to return. But their findings were not promising. Buildings that had been left untouched during the fighting were torched by Daesh as they retreated, and homes were booby-trapped – the sick Islamist extremists even left explosive devices hidden among children’s toys.
But a handful of brave Christians ventured back to their towns and villages to find out what state they are in. The Mayor of Qaraqosh – which was Iraq’s last Christian majority town before it fell – led a group back there. They not only found many buildings torched or in ruins, but also discovered Daesh was still there hiding in subterranean tunnels under the town. Kurdish Peshmerga Brigadier General Mahram Yasin said: “We want people to be patient and not to return here until we completely clear the area, as we want to ensure their safety”.
Aid to the Church in Need is working with the local Church to draw up a plan to rebuild some of the towns and villages that were destroyed – but realistically no one will be able to go back until two or three years’ time. Explosives will have to be cleared first and then homes need to be rebuilt.
The conflict in the Nineveh Pains may be drawing to an end, but for the displaced families the fight for survival is not over. Fr Andrew said: “We have to help these refugees get through each day. This means continuing our support for food baskets for over 12,000 families as well as for housing.”
Many families are still dependent upon the Church for food, lodging, clothes, medicine and other essentials including spiritual support. Please continue to help them.
Aid to the Church in Need, with your help, is continuing to provide displaced and refugee families with essential food parcels, as the immediate needs are still great. Please give whatever you can afford to help us support those in real need.
VOICES OF THE PERSECUTED