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Security concerns and hardship drive Chr...

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Security concerns and hardship drive Christians out of northern Iraq

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Security concerns and hardship drive Christians out of northern Iraq

Country/Region: Iraq, Middle East and North Africa

Iraqi Christians are running out of havens in their homeland as rising security concerns and economic hardship cause them to leave the places of refuge they had found in the country’s Kurdish north.   

A surge in anti-Christian violence following the US-led invasion in 2003 prompted thousands of believers to flee their homes in the most dangerous parts of Iraq, such as the capital, Baghdad, and Mosul. Some left for neighbouring countries, notably Syria, Jordan and Lebanon, while others headed north to the autonomous region of Kurdistan, which welcomed Christians and was relatively safe.

zakho-riots-4x3.jpg
Christian-owned shops in Kurdistan were torched by Islamists
CC BY-SA 3.0 / Wikimedia Commons

The worst-ever attack on Iraqi Christians, a siege on a church in Baghdad in October 2010 that left over 50 people dead, prompted another flight to Kurdistan, where there were already tens of thousands of Christian exiles.

But now, because of incidents of anti-Christian violence there, as well as economic hardship, they are starting to leave; many are seeking immigration to Turkey, Europe and the USA.

In January, the International Organisation for Migration found that 63 per cent of the displaced Christian families that it was monitoring in northern Iraq had left in the past year. Many of them said that they were concerned about security, and were having difficulty finding employment, housing and schools. Most of them speak only Arabic, not Kurdish, which severely restricts their opportunities.

The Kurdish government has offered land, free fuel and other assistance to Christians, but many families are struggling to make ends meet. 

And violent attacks, like the ones that Christians fled elsewhere in Iraq, are starting to happen in Kurdistan. When Christian-owned shops in Dohuk Province were torched by Islamists in December, Salam Meti Abdul Karim, a Christian who fled there from Mosul seven years ago after retrieving his son from kidnappers, said it was “like history was repeating itself”.

He added:

We worry the situation is just going to devolve into violence. I was thinking to just take my family and go up to the mountains.

In another worrying attack on the Christian community in Kurdistan, Sermat Patros, a 29-year-old Christian man, was kidnapped and held for three days before being rescued by a SWAT team.

Berkho Odeesho, mayor of Dawudiyah village, said, “We found safety in Kurdistan, but things are getting unstable. We don’t know where to go.”

There were 1.5m Christians in Iraq in 1990; there are estimated to be fewer than 500,000 today and it seems likely that their number will continue to fall.

In its most recent annual report, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom wrote, “The consequence of this flight may be the end of Christianity in Iraq.”

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christian, persecution, charity, church, persecuted, sookhdeo, Islam

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  • Praise God for the release of John Short, an Australian missionary who was detained in North Korea for distributing Christian leaflets. John, who is 75 and based in Hong Kong, was reported to security officials in Pyongyang after he was spotted leaving a Christian leaflet at a Buddhist temple, an act that is illegal in North Korea. Further Korean-language Christian pamphlets were subsequently found in his hotel room. John, who was released on 3 March after two weeks in custody, was required to sign a confession probably scripted by the authorities. Other foreign missionaries arrested in North Korea have been given long prison sentences. Give thanks to God that John has escaped further punishment, and pray for him as he recovers from his traumatic ordeal. Subscribe to the prayer points rss feed 12 hours ago

  • Pray for Barnabas Aid partners in South Sudan who have been supporting Christians forced from their homes by violence. Conflict between supporters of President Salva Kiir and his sacked deputy Riek Machar in December and January displaced around 860,000 people. Churches were burned down and a number of pastors killed, while many people lost their belongings and were left destitute. Give thanks that churches in and around the capital, Juba, were able to provide food and other essentials to many families with help from Barnabas. Pray that they may continue to be salt and light in their country at this unstable time (Matthew 5:13-16), and that it will soon be safe for displaced Christians to return home. Subscribe to the prayer points rss feed Wed, Apr 2014 00:00

  • Pray for the residents of a mainly Christian village in Borno state, Northern Nigeria, in the aftermath of a horrific attack by Boko Haram militants on 15 February. Ask for God’s comfort for the relatives and friends of the 106 people in Izghe who were gunned down and slaughtered in their houses or in the open as they tried to flee. Pray for strength for the numerous residents who were wounded or whose properties were looted and torched. Pray too for the many Christians who fled into the neighbouring state after the attack, and ask that the Christian community in the North of Nigeria will be preserved in the face of Islamist violence. Subscribe to the prayer points rss feed Tue, Apr 2014 00:00

  • Violent attacks by militants from the Islamist group Boko Haram continue unabated in Northern Nigeria. On one horrendous day of violence on 26 January, at least 138 people were killed. A church in Wada Chakawa village in Adamawa state was targeted; the attackers locked the congregation inside and then detonated bombs, shooting and cutting the throats of people who tried to escape. They then went on a four-hour rampage in the village. Later the same day, Kawuri village in neighbouring Borno state was burned to the ground. Boko Haram is fighting to establish an Islamic state, and Christians are among its main targets. Pray that the Nigerian authorities will succeed in containing its insurgency. Subscribe to the prayer points rss feed Mon, Apr 2014 00:00

  • Almighty God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, we give You thanks on this Easter Day for the living hope that You have given us and all Your people through the resurrection of Jesus from the dead (1 Peter 1:3). We pray that the prospect of an enduring inheritance and future salvation will encourage our persecuted brothers and sisters to persevere in their faith, whatever may happen to them. We pray that we too may be sustained by this hope in the sufferings that we experience for the sake of Christ. We ask that the joy and resurrection power of the Lord will give strength and peace to persecuted believers today and every day. Subscribe to the prayer points rss feed Sun, Apr 2014 00:00

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