Mosul Christians Reluctant to Return

Community worries about continued threats despite stepped up security and financial aid.

By Hisham Mohammed Ali in Sulaimaniyah (ICR No. 276, 20-Nov-08)

Christians from Mosul are hesitant about returning home despite cash offerings and pledges of stronger security in and around the volatile northern city.

The Iraqi government has boosted the number of security forces and troops in Mosul to 35,000 and is offering displaced Christian families up to 1.5 million Iraqi dinars (1,300 US dollars) to return to their homes. Iraqi president Jalal Talabani also earlier this month pledged 900,000 dollars to support and protect the community.

An estimated 2,000 families – approximately half of Mosul’s Christian population – fled Mosul and its surrounding areas following the killings of Christians there last month.

International aid agencies and local rights groups report that while Christians have slowly trickled back into Mosul in recent weeks, many are unwilling to return to their homes out of fear that their community will be targeted again.

Violence has declined, but there is concern that the killings of two Christian women in Mosul last week could deter Christians from returning.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, UNHCR, reported last week that about one-third of approximately the 1,000 families that had fled Al-Hamdaniya, a largely Christian area on the outskirts of Mosul, had returned.

UNHCR, which provided support to Christians who had fled to neighbouring Syria and other parts of Iraq in October, noted that accurate figures were difficult to obtain and some displaced Christians were reluctant to register with the government.

Safa Nathir Kamu, a 42-year-old engineer who fled to Erbil province 80 kilometres east of Mosul, praised Talabani’s initiative but said security guarantees – not financial incentives –
would convince him to return.

“We would like to go back home,”said Kamu. “We need security, but unfortunately security in Mosul is nothing more than pictures on TV.”

UNHCR said many Christians were returning to Mosul out of concern for their job security or for education. Many were staying in churches or in private homes and relied on aid groups for basic supplies.

The US military has blamed al-Qaeda sympathisers for targeting Christians in Mosul, the capital of Nineveh province and a stronghold of the Sunni insurgency which Iraqi and US forces are battling to control.

The majority of Iraq’s Christians are believed to reside in Nineveh. Assyrians, Chaldeans and Catholics largely consider the province their homeland.

Defence ministry spokesman Mohammed Al-Askari said the government had no specific plan to protect only Christians but was working to establish security in Mosul “for everyone”.