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Iraq

Mass migration of Christians spells end of church in Iraq, warn activists

By Rudaw 28/12/2016
Iraqi Christians celebrating their first Christmas in the town of Hamdaniya outside Mosul for the first time in two years since the ISIS takeover of Mosul. Photo by Hejar Jawhar/Rudaw
Iraqi Christians celebrating their first Christmas in the town of Hamdaniya outside Mosul for the first time in two years since the ISIS takeover of Mosul. Photo by Hejar Jawhar/Rudaw

KIRKUK, Kurdistan Region—The continued migration of Iraq's Christians to Europe will have long-lasting impact on their vulnerable communities across the country including in the Kurdistan Region, warn several Christian activists Tuesday. The activists say the exodus of especially young people is "so high" it could endanger the future of the Church in the ISIS-stricken country.

 

"Migration is a human right to ensure stability and security in the life of an individual, but the mass migration of Christians from Iraq will inevitably have an unpleasant impact on the future of the Christians in Iraq and Kurdistan Region," said Head of the Human Rights Committee in the Kurdistan Region, Zia Botrus.

 

Botrus also criticized the migration policies of European nations which according to him "encouraged Christians" to leave rather than stay in their birth countries.

 

"The Christians in Kurdistan Region need support and if these countries want to support them, they can do much for them here," he added.

 

Accurate data is still difficult to come by about the number of Christian refugees in Kurdistan Region but authorities say it could be as high as 200,000 people with the majority of them living in Christian townships of Ainkawa and Shaqlawa north of Erbil.

 

Once a safe haven for the Christians in the Middle East, the Iraqi capital has increasingly failed to protect the security of its nearly half a million Christian community, the majority of whom have migrated to Europe since 2003.

 

According to reports from the office of Human Rights Committee in Kurdistan Region, the number of Christians in Baghdad has decreased to around 90,000 over the past decade with many of the young Christians leaving for exile.

 

The conditions are similarly tough for Christians elsewhere in the country. In Kirkuk alone, about 6,000 families have migrated to Europe in the past two years since ISIS terror war started. 

 

Maryam Bols, a 52-year-old Christian mother has 6 sons, four of them already in a refugee camp in Germany where they migrated to start a new life. Maryam said her other two sons prepare to follow their older brothers despite her fears and objections.

 

"I've sat here and cried all morning," Maryam said holding back tears. "I have cried for my home, for my church and my friends. How could I ever forget them.

 

"Daesh was the reason my sons left for ever. I don't have so many options either, I need to migrate at least to preserve our family," she said.

 

The leader of the Christian Mesopotamian Party (Bait-al-Nahrain) told Rudaw they have started a campaign to encourage Christians to stay in Iraq and Kurdistan Region.

 

Romeo Hakkari said they had submitted petitions to several European embassies in Erbil to "stop encouraging our people to leave their homeland."

 

"Undoubtedly, this ongoing migration is harmful for the future and fate of our nation in Iraq and in Kurdistan Region," he said. 

 

Iraq was home to over 1.5 million Christians before the country plunged into the sectarian conflict in mid-2000. Many left the country after systematic attacks on their neighborhoods in Baghdad and elsewhere.

 

According to government reports, more than hundred churches and monasteries in Mosul have been demolished by the ISIS militants since 2014. 

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