Iraq: Up to 15,000 more Christians returning home this month

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by ACN News
By Murcadha O Flaherty and John Pontifex
WITHIN just one month up to 15,000 displaced Iraqi Christians are expected to return to the town in the ancient Nineveh Plains which suffered the worst violence carried out by Daesh (ISIS).
The return of an expected 3,000 families to Qaraqosh comes amid growing concern among parents to secure places for their children at local schools – quickly being repaired in time for the new academic year next month.

Forecasting an upsurge in returnees, Aid to the Church in Need Middle East projects coordinator Father Andrzej Halemba said that up to 10,000 school places could soon be available. He said that to date about 5,000 Christians (1,000 families) have returned to Qaraqosh, a mere fraction of the 50,000 (10,000 families) who lived there until August 2014 when they were forced out by invading Daesh forces.But, with Daesh largely defeated and renovation work moving ahead, Father Halemba said that the Baghdad-based government was encouraging Christians to come back to Qaraqosh and other towns in Nineveh to take up public sector jobs. He said: “Many internally displaced people have married and many young people want to move to their villages for stability.”

(Fr Andrzej Halemba, Aid to the Church in Need’s Middle East projects coordinator (right of picture) © Aid to the Church in Need)

Father Halemba said the anticipated resettlement of so many people was putting pressure on Aid to the Church in Need and other organisations to repair buildings and renew infrastructure such as electricity and water supply.

The priest said that people were undeterred by temperatures in Qaraqosh of up to 122°F (50°C) and were willing to make the move from Erbil, the capital of Kurdish northern Iraq, which has been home to the displaced families for the past three years.

Father Halemba said another reason why so many people were likely to leave Kurdistan was to escape the increasingly fraught political environment ahead of a referendum on Kurdish independence due on 25th September.
He said: “Christians note the referendum as a factor of concern.”

Father Halemba said that there had also been an increase in returnees to other Christian towns and villages across the region.He said ACN was working as quickly as possible to repair homes across Nineveh, with 986 completed to a habitable standard. But with another 12,000 houses still to be repaired, Father Halemba, who is acting chairman of the Nineveh Reconstruction Committee (NRC), said much more work was needed.

(Destroyed homes in Qaraqosh © Jaco Klamer-Aid to the Church in Need)

Editor’s Notes

Directly under the Holy See, Aid to the Church in Need supports the faithful wherever they are persecuted, oppressed or in pastoral need. ACN is a Catholic charity – helping to bring Christ to the world through prayer, information and action.
The charity undertakes thousands of projects every year including providing transport for clergy and lay Church workers, construction of church buildings, funding for priests and nuns and help to train seminarians. Since the initiative’s launch in 1979, Aid to the Church in Need’s Child’s Bible – God Speaks to his Children has been translated into 162 languages and 48 million copies have been distributed all over the world.
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