by Ellen Teague
The evidence of Iraq’s shrinking Christian population was shown recently by the news of the Vatican ordering the closure of eight churches in Baghdad
People returning ‘in huge numbers’ to Nineveh region
The Iraqi Ministry for Migration and Internal Mobility has reported that more than 250,000 people have returned to their areas of origin in the Nineveh Governorate in Northern Iraq, following the liberation of Mosul last month. These were people who fled the region when it was occupied or threatened by jihadist militias of Islamic State.
The numerical data was first provided by Sattar Nowruz, spokesperson of the Iraqi ministry, and confirmed by the Iraqi Minister of Displacement and Migration, Jassim Mohammed al-Jaaf, last week. Almost 820,000 civilians – mostly religious minorities, including tens of thousands of Christians – have been displaced from the Nineveh governorate since 2016, with the latest driven away by military operations around Mosul.
However, local Christian sources are documenting a weak flow of Christian families back to their homes. In an interview on 28 July, Chaldean Patriarch Louis Raphael Sako said the liberation of Mosul has not cancelled all the risk and instability factors in the region, adding that much infrastructure has been completely destroyed and this also makes the future return of many Christian families to the land of their historical roots uncertain.
The evidence of Iraq’s shrinking Christian population was shown recently by the news of the Vatican ordering the closure of eight churches in Baghdad, “after nearly seven years of low or no attendance”. International Christian Concern has reflected that, “while this makes logistical sense, it represents a symbolic defeat for the Church in Iraq’s capital”. The number of Christians in Iraq today is probably as few as 300,000, down from 1.5 million before the 2003 US-led invasion.
Meanwhile, the Maronite bishops of Lebanon appealed on 2 August for a global plan to repatriate Syrian refugees, whose huge numbers in Lebanon are, they say, damaging the country. The country hosts more than one million Syrian refugees.
PICTURE:An Iraqi security member stands guard as Iraqi Christians attend a Christmas Day service at the Saint John’s church in Qaraqosh (also known as Hamdaniya), some 30 kms east of Mosul, Iraq, on December 25, 2016. This was the first time since the recapture of the town from Islamic State jihadists that Christian minority attend a mass