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Update on Iraq

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20 Nov 2014 by Michel Constantin and Ra’ed Bahou

I. Background

So far, an estimated 1.8 million Iraqis have been forced to leave their homes. Many have fled in fear for their lives from Islamic militants.

Since January 2014, Iraq has seen a dramatic increase in the number of internally displaced people, with violence pushing people and especially ethnic minorities — including Christians, Yazidis and Shiite Muslims — out of their communities and forcing them into other areas, predominantly in the Dohuk and Anbar Governorates.

This large-scale rapid forced migration is due to the movements of Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) fighters and other armed opposition groups that have launched an offensive against Iraq — and particularly against the government, which had marginalized the dominant Sunni population. These fighters are capturing areas in the west and displacing people as they push east and north, trying to create a homogeneous Sunni state through execution of Shiite Muslims and forced conversion of other religious minorities.

The brutality of ISIS militants and the marketing of this brutality over social media has succeeded in creating the shock and terror among all minorities of northern Iraq. On 6 August, the Christian presence in Mosul and Nineveh Plain faded completely, along with their trust in the international community. The government of Baghdad and the Kurdish government withdrew their forces from the Christian towns overnight, leaving more than 130,000 Christians without any kind of protection and leaving them subject to the brutality of unmerciful militants.

II. General observations of CNEWA representatives — 10-14 November 2014

After 100 days away from their homes, churches, and lands, more than 20,000 Christian families find themselves in dire situations where they have to fight everyday to cover their basic needs.

In our second visit to northern Iraq, the CNEWA delegation — comprised of Michel Constantin and Imad Abou Jaoude, from the Beirut office, and Ra’ed Bahou from the Amman office — was not able to meet with the local bishops as they were all outside the country.

Consequently, we focused on the Iraqi displaced families in their settlements; the local religious congregations, who are deeply involved with the displaced population in different centers; the parish priests from different churches, who are actively working to help these families; and finally a number of Catholic local and international NGO’s that are also providing aid and responding to the needs of struggling families.

  • The first observation following our visit was that it is true that theoretically the Christian families and others displaced from their hometowns and villages can find refuge in other parts of Iraq, and they are considered by the international organizations as internally displaced people and are supported on this basis. Yet in reality those displaced families have very little rights and access to public services within Kurdistan. Many families informed us they feel they would have more rights and it would be easier for them to cope in a strange country, such as Jordan or Lebanon, rather than in Kurdistan.
  • The second important observation is related to the hope of getting back to their villages and homes in case of liberation. Many families and religious sisters informed us that the experience of liberating Tel Eskof village following the air raids of the coalition against ISIS was a real disappointment; the few families who decided to return back to that village found that their homes were seriously destroyed by the raids and the houses that escaped destruction were mined by the fanatic militants before their withdrawal.

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