In northern Iraq, another 15,000 Christians are going home!

By Murcadha O’Flaherty and John Pontifex

IN THE COMING MONTH, another 15,000 Iraqi Christian IDPs are expected to return to their homes in Qaraqosh, on the Nineveh Plains, the town that suffered the most damage during the occupation of the region by ISIS.

Map of homes needing repair in Qaraqosh

The return of an expected 3,000 families to Qaraqosh comes amid growing concern among parents about securing a place for their children at local schools, which are quickly being repaired in time for the beginning of the new academic year next month.

Forecasting an upsurge in returnees, Father Andrzej Halemba, who oversees projects in the Middle East for internationa pontifical charity Aid to the Church in Need, said that up to 10,000 school places could soon be available.

He said that to date some 5,000 Christians—1,000 families—have returned to Qaraqosh. That is still on a mere fraction of the 10,000 families who lived there until August 2014 when they were forced out by ISIS. However, with renovation and repair efforts in full gear, Father Halemba reported that the Iraqi government is encouraging Christians to come back to Qaraqosh and other towns in Nineveh to take up public sector jobs.

He said: “Many IDPs have married and many young people want to move back to their villages for stability.”

Father Halemba said the anticipated resettlement of so many people was putting pressure on ACN and other organizations to repair homes and public buildings, as well as to revamp the electricity and water supply.

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 Iraq’s independence scheduled for Sept. 25. He said: “Christians note the referendum as a factor of concern,“ as it might provoke a confrontation with the Baghdad government. Erbil, the capital of Kurdistan, which has been home to the displaced families for the past three years

Father Halemba said that there has 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 the Nineveh Plains. So far, 986 homes have been inhabitable again.

Still, with another 12,000 houses still to be repaired or rebuilt, Father Halemba—who serves as acting chairman of the Nineveh Reconstruction Committee (NRC)—said much more work had to be done, alongside efforts to secure significant funding.

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