Displaced Iraqi Christians reluctant to return home

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Chiqui Guyjoco
(REUTERS/KHALID AL MOUSIL)Iraqi Christians pray as they attend a Good Friday mass at a church in Baghdad March 25, 2016.
The Iraqi army together with the Kurdish Peshmerga have started to retake territories from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS), but displaced Iraqi Christians are still reluctant to return to their villages as the internal violence continues.

“The first thing we ask for is safety,” Mansour Sharbil, a displaced Iraqi Christian, told Al Jazeera. “We need our own forces to protect us after the liberation.”

According to the satellite network, Sharbil is one of the displaced Iraqi Christians from the town of Qaraqosh and is now staying at Ankawa 2 camp in Erbil. The camp is a designated site for 5,500 displaced Iraqi Christians who are now living in caravans and highly dependent on assistance from non-government organizations (NGOs) and churches.

In 2014, the Islamic State terrorist group have seized control of the most parts of Iraq, displacing Iraqi Christians and other religious minorities.

“When they are liberated, we’ll return,” another displaced Iraqi, Ibrahim Shaba Lalo, said about their prospect. “But without international protection, it will be very hard to return.”

Some villagers have already returned to their homes since the Iraqi security forces and the Peshmerga launched military operations to retake the largely Christian areas of Nineveh from the militant group earlier this year. However, camp residents are still reluctant to go back until peace and order are finally restored in their villages.

That’s something Lalo can’t wait for to happen as he said, “It’s like living in prison here. We want to see our homes.”

An offensive to recapture ISIS’ stronghold in Mosul is still to be carried out. Humanitarian groups fear this would result in increased, if not the largest, numbers of displaced civilians. The United Nations estimates that more than a million people could be displaced once the attack on Mosul is underway.

“Even by our most conservative estimates, this could be the largest population movement anywhere in the world this year,” said Lise Grande, UN’s humanitarian coordinator for Iraq.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has reportedly vowed to recapture Mosul by this year.