This Summer Is Critical for Iraqi Christians from the Nineveh Plain
Iraq has been in the news for decades now. The number of Christians has fallen dramatically during this period. We interviewed William* who works for our local partner in Iraq. He gives an overview of the situation of the Christians and the work of our partner organization in this country.
The Christian Presence in Iraq
Before Saddam Hussein came, at the end of the 1970s, there were between 1.5 and 2 million Christians… When Saddam left, the reports stated that there were 500,000 Christians left in the country, so emigration of Christians started way before 2003. The situation began to deteriorate after 2003 because this was when the Islamists came. The latest reporting says there may only be 205,000 to 210,000 Christians left in the country.
Recently, the Iraqi authorities have said to the Christians: “Your towns are free. When this school year is finished, you have to go back. If you don’t go back, your child will not be allowed in the IDP schools after summer.” They are forcing people to return. I am curious to see what will happen in the summer.
A Survey of Families
A survey was given among the IDPs from Qaraqosh. Of the 1,000 participants, 68% said they wanted to return to their towns. This sounds positive, but what wasn’t included in the survey was who had already applied for refugee status with the UN—the vast majority applied by the end of 2014. The decisions on their applications are starting to come in; applications are being accepted and denied. Each time I travel on an airplane from Erbil, there have been between 2-10 families leaving the country. In June, July and August, when decisions on applications are finalized, it will be interesting to see who actually stays and who decides to leave. It is uncertain whether those who express a desire to return to Qaraqosh will actually return if their applications are accepted.
Among the Christians in the IDP camps, you see three groups of people: one group just wants to emigrate, the second group wants to remain in Erbil, and the third group is willing to return. The questions will be: “Are people actually going to move back?” and “Will they be able to move the community from IDP areas back to villages and towns like Qaraqosh and Bartella?” When this happens, it might attract other people to move there as well. We do our best. We want to stand beside the Christians. When they decide to return, we want to support them.
A Critical Summer Decision
We work through local churches. We’re working with three or four church committees to start a center in those towns where people can register for return. Through the priest and this committee, they can return and hand in their receipts or even stay overnight in the center while they are working on restoring their houses. We’re working on centers located in Karamles, Bartella, Bashiqa and Qaraqosh. We now have a list of 350 families wanting to return to these different towns.
*Please join us in praying for these families and the decisions they have in front of them. Pray also that God would call many back home to remain a vital Christian presence in this region.
Names changed for security reasons.