IN AN URGENT appeal, Christian leaders on Iraq‘s Nineveh Plains called on the international community to do more to help resettle thousands of Christian families who had fled ISIS—and ensure the survival of Christianity in Iraq, which is by no means certain.
“Please do not be a silent bystander to our drama. We call on you to support the Christians of Iraq… while there is still time for it,” wrote leaders of the Chaldean Catholic Church, the Syrian Catholic Church and the Syriac Orthodox Church, the three main Churches on the Nineveh Plain. The signatories are part of the Nineveh Reconstruction Committee, which was created by Aid to the Church in Need, the international papal charity, to oversee the reconstruction of the Christian communities in northern Iraq.
Funding is falling short, the statement said, noting that “there is still a lot to do” to facilitate the return of Christians “to their respective ancestral communities from which they were expelled” as ISIS swept through the region in the summer of 2014.
The appeal reports that 13,904 homes needed repair or rebuilding after the ouster of ISIS; work has been completed on half the number of houses. To-date, 9,060 families have returned from exile in Kurdistan, representing only just over 45 percent of all Christians who fled the Nineveh Plains.
The leaders said that an additional “2,000 families are eager to return, but have no means to do so.” The statement stressed the fact that the return of these Christians to their former homes “is a matter of great urgency, since the window of time for returning safely is closing. If they do not return now to repossess their homes, others will occupy them. Moreover, the Iraqi government is not inclined to protect empty houses.”
Besides urging greater financial and diplomatic support from the international community, the statement calls for the “legal protection of Christians and other minorities, their fundamental human rights, especially equal citizenship;” trauma care; investment in education that uses the Syriac language spoken by Christians; and the funding of “small business/self-employment micro-projects” to help prevent the impoverishment of the Christian community and stem the flow of emigration.
Iraqi Christian leaders cite two key recent developments: commitments made by the German and Austrian governments to help fund the reconstruction of the Nineveh Plains and US President Donald Trump signing into law the “Iraq and Syria Genocide Relief and Accountability Act of 2018,” which provides for “relief for victims of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes who are members of religious and ethnic minority groups in Iraq and Syria, for accountability for perpetrators of these crimes, and for other purposes.”
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