IRAQ: Christian displacement slows in Ninevah

Source: IRIN
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 BAGHDAD, 26 October 2008 (IRIN) – Fewer Iraqi Christian families are fleeing their homes in the northern province of Ninevah thanks to the heavy presence of security forces, but families who already fled anti-Christian attacks over the past few weeks are living in difficult conditions and are still reluctant to return to their homes, a local aid official said on 25 October.

“They are experiencing hard living conditions in the places they have ended up despite receiving aid on a daily basis,” Falah Hilal, head of the provincial department of the Iraqi Red Crescent Society (IRCS), said.

“Most of these families have ended up cramped in small rooms in churches and monasteries while others joined relatives or friends in their houses. Their children have left schools and employees can’t go to their offices,” Hilal added.

Hilal said that the IRCS had not registered any new displacements among Christian families over the past week as security forces had deployed in the areas where Christians lived.

“Yet we didn’t register any return of families to their houses either,” Hilal told IRIN.

Anti-Christian violence in Mosul, the provincial capital of Ninevah and some 400km north of Baghdad, erupted on 4 October when gunmen started assassinating Christians and threatening others, telling them to leave the city.

13,000 displaced Christians

On 24 October, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) estimated that more than 2,200 families, or some 13,000 people, had fled their homes since 4 October. UNHCR said this represented about half the province’s Christian population. It added that about 400 families had crossed the border into Syria while others had gone to safe areas to the north and east of Mosul and others to neighbouring Dahuk, Erbil and Kirkuk provinces.

“Many left with little money and need help,” the UNHCR statement said, adding that it had delivered relief supplies to over 1,700 Christian families.

Police estimated that 12 Christians had died in the violence. The latest incident was on 13 October when gunmen broke into a music store in Mosul killing its Christian owner and injuring his nephew.

No group has claimed responsibility for the attacks but Sunni extremists are believed to be behind the campaign, which is taking place despite US-Iraqi operations aimed at routing insurgents from remaining strongholds north of the capital.

The newly displaced 13,000 Christians add to the more than 4.2 million Iraqis who have fled their homes since the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, according to UNHCR.

Of these, about 2 million are living as refugees in neighbouring countries – mostly in Syria and Jordan – while the remainder are displaced within Iraq.