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Charities Cautiously Optimistic Christians Will Return to ISIS-Cleared Areas of Iraq. By Kevin McCandless


An Iraqi Christian refugee family (Photo: Open Doors USA)

London ( – Representatives of international charities operating in Britain are guardedly optimistic that Christians could soon return in numbers to some parts of Iraq from which they have been driven.

The Christian community is now at a turning point in Iraq, said John Pontifex, a British spokesman for Aid to the Church in Need.

Either families begin to return, he said, or the world will have to accept the decline and eradication of the Christian presence in Iraq.

“Our position is that it’s either now or never,” Pontifex said Wednesday..

Although the Christian community in Iraq is one of the oldest and was once the most established in the Middle East, it began to suffer major persecution after the United States invaded in 2003 to topple the regime of Saddam Hussein.

With the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS/ISIL), many thousands more were driven out of their communities, into either internal displacement in Iraq, or abroad.

Open Doors, an international organization that supports oppressed Christians worldwide, ranked Iraq this year world watchlist as the seventh most difficult country to live in as a Christian. (In 2016 Iraq was in second place, third in 2015, and fourth in 2014 and 2013.)

Open Doors estimates that only 230,000 Christians remain in the country.

However, with ISIS being driven from the Nineveh Plains – the traditional Christian heartland – earlier this year, Aid to the Church in Need believes that this region around the city of Mosul in northern Iraq presents an opportunity for Christians to return.

The organization, a pontifical foundation of the Catholic Church, has announced plans to raise funds to rebuild 13,000 homes in the area.

Preliminary surveys of the work have been done and Pontifex said research has shown that around 80 percent of those displaced Christians have an interest in returning.

He added that there are still tremendous questions to be answered, such as restoring infrastructure and electricity to the region, as well as an independence referendum to be held in the semi-autonomous Kurdish region in September.

Kurdish militia help to provide security to the region and the plains have reportedly been included in the voting area of the semi-autonomous part of Iraq.

A spokesperson for Open Doors said that in Iraq as a whole, the situation for Christians remains very difficult after long years of persecution, but that there are glimmers of hope.

She said huge differences in conditions exist throughout the country but that villagers in the Nineveh Plains are the most optimistic of returning.

Christians of Iraq and Syria don’t have a large voice themselves and it was the duty of others to speak for them, the spokesperson said.

“I think we need to keep it in the forefront of people’s minds.”

Open Doors is gathering electronic signatures for its One Million Voices of Hope petition which it plans to present to the United Nations and British government in December.

The petition calls on the U.N. and Britain to help ensure equal rights for all citizens of Syria and Iraq, with dignified living conditions, and to help in equipping religious leaders and organizations in rebuilding these societies.

Late last month, the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office issued its annual report on human rights worldwide, in which it described those in Iraq remaining of grave concern in 2016.

Lord Tariq Ahmad, who was appointed Minister of State for the Commonwealth and United Nations in June, said at the launch that freedom of religion or belief was a personal priority for him.

“Working in collaboration with faith leaders is key to this effort,” he said.

Ahmad, whose remit includes global human rights, said he also wanted to take a fresh look at how the U.K. can lead internationally in helping develop inclusive societies that are resilient to violent extremism.

Source: CNS News, August 3, 2017



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