By John Pontifex
A LEADING archbishop has called for the creation of a huge displacement centre, the size of a village, in Kurdish northern Iraq for tens of thousands of people – many of them Christians – fleeing ISIS.
Chaldean Catholic Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil in Kurdistan said thousands of “mobile homes” erected in his diocese were vital as the region anticipates a mass influx of people desperate to escape the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS).
His comments come after reports today (Monday, 30th June) that the jihadists had announced the creation of a caliphate, or Islamic state, in the territory it controls in Iraq and Syria, appointing Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi as caliph and “leader for Muslims everywhere”.
The advance of ISIS has prompted a mass exodus from towns and villages and the BBC reported that 40,000 people fled towns and villages in the Nineveh plains outside Mosul amid reports of heavy fighting.
Archbishop Warda said that since then many, if not most, of the people had returned but added that an influx of people into Kurdish northern Iraq was highly likely because of the ongoing conflict and insecurity.
Speaking today (Monday, 30th June) in an interview with Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need, Archbishop Warda said: “We are expecting an influx of people.
“It is not going to be a case of people wanting to stay one day – it will last one year or up to 18 months.
“They cannot live in tents – especially given so many of them will be elderly and women with children.”
“Creating a village with mobile homes is necessary to help them.”
“We need to find a site where they can go and where they have the facilities available to help them.”
With no end in sight to the conflict which has uprooted so many communities, Archbishop Warda stressed the need for government unity in the face of the threat from ISIS.
He said: “The international community must put pressure on the Iraqi government to pull themselves together, to put their past disputes behind them and negotiate.
“This is what is necessary to deal with the crisis. Everything is not clear. It is chaotic.”
Soon after ISIS captured Mosul on 10th June, Aid to the Church in Need responded by providing EUR 100,000 (nearly £80,000) in emergency help – food and shelter for many of the Christian families fleeing the city.
The aid project was overseen by Catholic Chaldean Archbishop Amel Nona of Mosul who fled the city for the nearby Tal Kayf and began mounting a relief operation amid reports that 500,000 people were on the move.
Soon after the capture of Mosul by ISIS, Archbishop Warda said that for the first time in 1,600 years no Sunday Mass had taken place in the city.