RELEASE MAG 109 linked Page 10 Image 0001
Photo: Reuters/Thaier Al-Sudani.

Renewed conflict in Syria and insecurity in Iraq may force another exodus of Iraqi Christians, warns partner Jamal. By Release’s Andrew Boyd.

Only around 300,000 Christians remain in Iraq from a peak of 1.8 million in the year 2000. They’ve been driven out by conflict and insecurity. And many more are now anxious to leave, says Release’s partner Jamal.

‘Most of the Christians have lost hope,’ he says. ‘Many of them are applying to leave the country, and if they can, they will.’

Jamal provides help to Iraqis who have fled to Erbil, the principal city of Kurdistan, in northern Iraq. He fears that the recent Turkish incursion into neighbouring Syria is threatening to drive a new wave of refugees into the region.

‘The Kurdistan government are preparing for between 100,000 and 200,000 refugees,’ he recently told Release. ‘They’re preparing for a big number to come.’

The US decision to take their troops out of the north has left many Kurds feeling betrayed.

‘They believe it has given the Turks  the right to invade the Kurdish area in Syria. Many people have been killed. This has impacted Kurdistan because even more refugees are now coming. Everybody’s confused and shocked by the decision.’

Many Iraqis have already fled to Erbil, where the Kurds have given them safe haven. Some 50,000 others are said to be scattered across the plains of Nineveh, in towns and villages near Mosul, until recently occupied by Islamic State (IS).

Some Iraqis have been refugees several times over – driven out by the Gulf War, insurgency and IS fighters. ‘For the last hundred years they have been under attack,’ he says. ‘They have lost hope. They have lost the desire to rebuild again.’

The recent death of IS leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, is unlikely to allay the Christian community’s growing fears. ‘If IS is finished today, then another movement with a different name is likely to replace it. That’s why the Christians want to leave.’

Thanks to your support, Jamal is working with the Christian community in Kurdistan to support refugees – with the blessing of the Kurdistan government.

‘The government saw the impact of what we were doing – and asked us to do more. They have given us an open door to reach refugees, and permission to distribute food and Christian books everywhere we go.

‘Please pray for our protection and the continuing favour of God to help the refugees and displaced people in the region.

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