Staff members from CNEWA visited refugees in northern Iraq last week, and on their return offered an exhaustive and detailed analysis of the situation on the ground:
After 100 days away from their homes, churches, and lands, more than 20,000 Christian families find themselves in dire situations where they have to fight everyday to cover their basic needs.
In our second visit to northern Iraq, the CNEWA delegation — comprised of Michel Constantin and Imad Abou Jaoude, from the Beirut office, and Ra’ed Bahou from the Amman office — was not able to meet with the local bishops as they were all outside the country.
Consequently, we focused on the Iraqi displaced families in their settlements; the local religious congregations, who are deeply involved with the displaced population in different centers; the parish priests from different churches, who are actively working to help these families; and finally a number of Catholic local and international NGO’s that are also providing aid and responding to the needs of struggling families.
The first observation following our visit was that it is true that theoretically the Christian families and others displaced from their hometowns and villages can find refuge in other parts of Iraq, and they are considered by the international organizations as internally displaced people and are supported on this basis. Yet in reality those displaced families have very little rights and access to public services within Kurdistan. Many families informed us they feel they would have more rights and it would be easier for them to cope in a strange country, such as Jordan or Lebanon, rather than in Kurdistan.
The second important observation is related to the hope of getting back to their villages and homes in case of liberation. Many families and religious sisters informed us that the experience of liberating Tel Eskof village following the air raids of the coalition against ISIS was a real disappointment; the few families who decided to return back to that village found that their homes were seriously destroyed by the raids and the houses that escaped destruction were mined by the fanatic militants before their withdrawal. A week ago, a 16-year-old boy died when he tried to enter his house, which had been mined. This situation made the return to their homes almost impossible for the foreseeable future.
It is estimated that today more than 1.8 million people are displaced in the country, mostly in Kurdistan and Anbar provinces, where about 390,000 are estimated to be in need of shelter and currently living in schools, under bridges or out in the open, in very bad conditions. Over 860,000 internally displaced persons have arrived from Anbar, Mosul and Sinjar in the last several months as the situation has deteriorated in all those regions. In August alone, 650,000 people arrived in Kurdistan seeking shelter, security and safety. Many of them have been staying with friends and relatives. About 400,000 displaced now live in Anbar Province, which is not controlled by Iraqi Government forces.
Presently, there are 120,000 Christian refugees in the Iraqi Kurdish capital of Erbil and other parts of Kurdistan.
As the needs continue to rise, the humanitarian conditions of the displaced are deteriorating. Children, being fragile, are the most affected in this crisis.
And that’s just the beginning.
The needs are great — and growing. Read the full report to learn what those needs are and what CNEWA is doing to help those displaced Christians affected by this crisis.