By: Murcadha O Flaherty and John Pontifex
Within just one month, up to 15,000 displaced Iraqi Christians are expected to return to the town in the ancient Nineveh Plains which suffered the worst violence carried out by Daesh (ISIS). The return of an expected 3,000 families to Qaraqosh comes amid growing concern among parents to secure places for their children at local schools – quickly being repaired in time for the new academic year next month.
Forecasting an upsurge in returnees, Aid to the Church in Need Middle East projects coordinator Father Andrzej Halemba said that up to 10,000 school places could soon be available. He said that to date about 5,000 Christians (1,000 families) have returned to Qaraqosh, a mere fraction of the 50,000 (10,000 families) who lived there until August 2014 when they were forced out by invading Daesh forces. But, with Daesh largely defeated and renovation work moving ahead, Father Halemba said that the Baghdad-based government was encouraging Christians to come back to Qaraqosh and other towns in Nineveh to take up public sector jobs. He said: “Many internally displaced people have married and many young people want to move to their villages for stability.”
Father Halemba said the anticipated resettlement of so many people was putting pressure on Aid to the Church in Need and other organisations to repair buildings and renew infrastructure such as electricity and water supply. The priest said that people were undeterred by temperatures in Qaraqosh of up to 122°F (50°C) and were willing to make the move from Erbil, the capital of Kurdish northern Iraq, which has been home to the displaced families for the past three years.
Father Halemba said another reason why so many people were likely to leave Kurdistan was to escape the increasingly fraught political environment ahead of a referendum on Kurdish independence due on 25th September. He said: “Christians note the referendum as a factor of concern.”
Father Halemba said that there had also been an increase in returnees to other Christian towns and villages across the region. He said ACN was working as quickly as possible to repair homes across Nineveh, with 986 completed to a habitable standard. But with another 12,000 houses still to be repaired, Father Halemba, who is acting chairman of the Nineveh Reconstruction Committee (NRC), said much more work was needed.
For more information see: www.acnuk.org