A shocking new report
The World Watch List out this week ranks the persecution of Christians by country. Unsurprisingly, the self-styled “Socialist State” of North Korea is still the worst persecutor of Christians. Iraq is ranked 13th on the list, with the main source of persecution given as “Islamic Oppression”. Perhaps a better phrase would be “Islamist extremism”, an ideology fueled by politics more than religion. In any case, the message is clear: Iraqi Christians are still among the most persecuted in the world.
That being said, many Christians who fled northern Iraq when ISIS came have since returned. This in itself is an act of forgiveness and reconciliation. Through interviews we have conducted with refugees, we know that some Sunni Muslims sided with ISIS. Some even looted houses abandoned by Christians. However, returnees have discovered a new and awful reality. There are no jobs and therefore little hope of long-term survival.
The stark new reality facing Iraq’s Christians
We pray every day for the Christians in Iraq. Those who have returned face an uphill struggle to rebuild their shattered lives. Contrary to the misconceptions, relatively few Iraqi Christians have been able to leave the Middle East. Currently, the only Anglophone country to welcome them with open arms is Australia (before that Canada). For some reason, the UK government will not take any Iraqi refugees in. Instead, it has committed to taking 20,000 Syrian refugees from UN camps, none of whom are Christian.
Despite the defeat of ISIS on the battlefield, Christians in Iraq still aren’t safe. There were reports in the Arab media this week of the Tahra Church in Mosul being desecrated and looted. Pictures of the rubble-strewn church are online, although it is not yet clear who is responsible. There have also been reports of Shia militias taking control of formerly Christian land in the Nineveh Plain. Some say that unless Baghdad can curtail the rising influence of the Shia militias, Christianity in northern Iraq is finished.
A way forward
This is why our Nineveh SEED programme is so vital. It’s not just about job-creation, it’s about demography. The number of Christians in Iraq has dwindled dramatically in recent years. For the Christian villages of the Nineveh Plain to thrive once more, returnees must find a way of sustaining themselves. We are doing what we can to provide aid but it is jobs now that are needed. Alternatively, homes will be bought up by other groups, roads will fall under the control of armed men, and the church bells will fall silent.
Supporting our work in the Middle East
To support our work in Iraq and Jordan helping displaced and persecuted Christians and other minorities, please make a donation now via our donate page (there are numerous options for how to donate). Or you can send us a cheque made out to ‘FRRME’ to: FRRME, PO Box 229, Petersfield, Hants, GU32 9DL, United Kingdom. To support our future work, please consider leaving a legacy (more info here). Thank you.