14 November 2016

Iraq, Nineveh plain, Open Doors helps displaced Christians prepare to return home.

As the liberation of the Nineveh plains begins, Open Doors partners on the ground in Iraq are monitoring the situation and planning how they will support displaced people to return to Mosul and the surrounding villages if and when it is safe for them to do so.

One local partner, John*, visited the recently liberated city of Qaraqosh, a mainly Christian city before the self-proclaimed Islamic State (IS) invaded. "The area we visited appeared totally destroyed," he said. "Many houses and buildings were burned, and in some streets the houses were totally collapsed—appearing like a district inside Aleppo. Rubbish and damaged goods were everywhere. Some streets were blocked because of the rubbish."

But eventually, Open Doors partners hope to help local people rebuild towns such as this. John said, "We will support families to make their house liveable again. We will help them with funds to repaint their house, to replace doors and windows and to repair cabling and water pipes. It is important that we help them rebuild their churches. We will also help to repair schools and infrastructure."

At the moment it is still unsafe for displaced people to return to liberated areas such as Qaraqosh because IS fighters are still present in the bigger towns. When John was in Qaraqosh, he said: "We constantly heard shooting. Sometimes it appeared nearby, other times a few blocks away, and all the time there were explosions. Fortunately, they sounded a bit further away."

But the liberation of these towns is a sign of hope for the Christians who once lived there. John went to a church building in Qaraqosh with the church leader whose congregation once met there. John said, "With a sad voice [the church leader] remembered how the church had looked before he’d left it two years ago. But although ash and damage was everywhere, what stood out most for me was the faith I saw in his eyes."

Open Doors partners will help displaced Christians to rebuild their homes and rebuild their lives. John said: "We will continue to support them every step of the way. We will work with them on job return projects and of course they can also apply for business loans and continue to take part in our trauma care projects and Biblical trainings and distributions. "

At the moment, Open Doors local partners in Iraq think it is unlikely that families will be able to begin to return to their homes in places like Qaraqosh until the summer of 2017. Many areas are so badly damaged that a lot of basic building work needs to be done. There are also areas which have been deliberately made unsafe to prevent Christians from returning home.

*name changed for security reasons

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Open Doors UK & Ireland is part of Open Doors International, a global NGO network which has supported and strengthened persecuted Christians for 60 years. Last year supporters in the UK and Ireland raised over £11.7 million to provide practical support to persecuted Christians such as food, medicines, trauma care, legal assistance, safe houses and schools, as well as spiritual support through Christian literature, training and resources, in over 60 countries.

This year, Open Doors has launched the Hope for the Middle East campaign, a global, seven-year campaign mobilising Christians around the world to stand with the church in the Middle East. As part of this, Open Doors is asking people to sign the One Million Voices of Hope petition, which will be presented to the UN in June 2017. The petition calls for equality, dignity and responsibility for Christians and other minorities in Syria and Iraq, the key things Christians and church leaders from these nations have said they want for the future.

Iraq is number 2 on the Open Doors World Watch List, which ranks the severity of persecution faced by Christians in 50 countries. Open Doors is working through local partners and churches in Iraq to provide crisis relief, trauma training, biblical training for church leaders, socio-economic development projects such as microloans for displaced people, and distributing Bibles and Christian literature.