A Christian woman displaced from Tel Kayf in Nineveh province decorated a Christmas tree in a refugee camp located in Duhok province, Kurdistan Region. Photo: Rudaw TV
DUHOK, Kurdistan Region – Tens of thousands of Christians who remain displaced about three years after the spread of ISIS throughout Iraq are preparing to celebrate another Christmas in refugee camps with what little they have.
Madlin Toma, displaced from Tel Kayf north of Mosul, has sought refuge in a Duhok camp for the internally displaced persons (IDPS) since in 2014.
“God willing, with the grace of Jesus Christ there will be happiness, safety, and love,” Toma said, next to a decorated Christmas tree and a Santa Claus in her room.
Her children had left the country following the ISIS onslaught that mainly targeted the minorities including the Yezidis and the Christians’ in parts of Nineveh province which included the disputed or Kurdistani areas and claimed by both Erbil and Baghdad.
“We all want to be brothers and sisters,” she said. “But when the ISIS group came, they destroyed our lives. May God destroy their lives.”
She has stayed in the Kurdistan Region in the hope that she will back to her home in Tel Kayf, a town was liberated by Iraqi forces in January 2016.
The KRG announced Sunday the 24th (Christmas Eve) and Monday the 25th (Christmas Day) as official holidays in the Kurdistan Region.
"Merry Christmas to all Christans and a very happy New Year to all," read a tweet from the Kurdistan Regional Government on Saturday.
Jamila Mati, another Christian IDP, said that it is the fourth year spending her life in the camp. She said she was at least grateful for having a place to stay and being able to prepare for the Christian festivities.
“The feast is a symbol for us. We have to prepare for it in ways that we can afford,” she said, as she rolled the dough.
She was preparing cookies that make use of flour, walnut and dates.
“This is our life. It is difficult,” she said referring to life in the refugee camp and the limited resources available.
Local Christian non-governmental organizations have estimated that only about 200,000 Christians remain in Iraq with that many having fled the country since 2014.
“We hope that we return home for the year to come,” she concluded.
While the Iraqi government declared the defeat of ISIS in the country in December, and announced the full liberation of Nineveh province in August, the Iraqi authorities, including those in the Kurdistan Region, have a long way before all the displaced can return.
Security and stabilization are two major concerns. Iraq has said that reconstruction will cost the country tens of billions of dollars.
The Iraqi Foreign Minister Ibrahim Jaafari in April has asked the world for a fund similar to the Marshall Plan, which helped to quickly rebuilding countries in the Western Europe following World War II. That cost the United States $13.3 billion (roughly $103.4 billion today).
“The world owes it to us,” said Jaafari, explaining that foreign fighters joined ISIS from more than 100 countries.
The US-led Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS has estimated that about 40,000 foreign fighters joined ISIS in Iraq and Syria; however, hundreds of billions in funds from Washington are unlikely beyond what it already contributes through the UN, USAID, and NGOs.
“We are in the business, as we’ve said before, of stabilizing these areas, clearing landmines, humanitarian – basic water, basic health, electricity,” said US Special Presidential Envoy to the Coalition Brett McGurk during a special briefing on December 21. “We are not engaged in nation-building exercises and long-term reconstruction.”
Kuwait is set to organize a fundraising conference early next year to help reconstruction in Iraq.