CHRISTIANS forced out of their ancestral lands in northern Iraq are rejoicing after we made the announcement that we are proceeding with the repair of 2,000 Christian homes on the Nineveh Plains.
The US$5 million aid package will support projects renovating 1,500 homes in Qaraqosh and 500 in the towns of Bartella, Bashiqua and Bahzani.
George J. Marlin, chairman of our US office, said: “If we do not do everything in our power to support the return of Christians to their ancestral lands, they will leave their towns again—and perhaps even the country—for good.”
ACN Middle East projects head Father Andrzej Halemba said he was encouraged that up to 35 percent of Iraq’s Christian had already returned to their homes on the Nineveh Plains—homes they had the abandon in the summer of 2014 when ISIS invaded the region. He said: “More than 30,000 Christians have in the meantime gone back to where they lived before.”
“However, their situations are anything but easy,” Father Halemba added, explaining that a severe winter had led to high heating and electricity costs. What’s more, though ISIS has been expelled from the territory, Islamist ideas had have taken root in some sections of society.
Rebuilding is being overseen by the Nineveh Reconstruction Committee (NRC), which was jointly formed by the Chaldean, Syriac Orthodox and Syriac Catholic Churches, the three main denominations on the Nineveh Plains.
Since its establishment in March of 2017, the NRC has rebuilt nearly 3,000 houses, with our organization providing support for the renovation of 784 homes. The latest aid package is a stopgap measure until more charities, governments and NGOs help the resettlement effort
Father Halemba said: “It will be possible to achieve the greater objective—namely, to restore 6,000 houses—but only if we join forces with other players and only if this region is not left to its own devices.” He continued: “This would enable at least each second displaced person of the Christian minority to return. Otherwise, we have to fear a reversal of the currently still tangible homecoming process.”
Father Halemba added that to keep people from emigrating from the area, further steps needed to be taken to ensure long-term security.
Since 2014, when ISIS seized the Nineveh Plains, we have provided more than US$40 million for Iraq’s Christians. That total covered nearly half of all emergency aid—food, medicine, shelter and schooling—for displaced families from the Nineveh Plains living under the care of the Chaldean Archdiocese of Erbil in Kurdish Iraq
Iraq’s Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has stated that his country needs more than US$97 billion to fix its crumbling infrastructure.
There were more than 1 million Christians living in Iraq before the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime in 2003. Numbers have declined to between 200,000 and 250,000 today.
—John Newton and Murcadha O Flaherty