Hope remains in Karamles, Iraq, where more people are returning home every day, according to Father Thabet who was among the first to return less than a month after Karamles was liberated from Islamic State (IS) militants, one year ago.
Speaking from his church, which is being restored after damage from IS occupation, Father Thabet said, “We are here in our house, our home, our town, in our identity. The number of families increases day after day. This creates in us big joy.”
But the return of families to Christian-majority towns like Karamles has been slower than anticipated. Many still fear for their safety. Both from IS and the effects of the Kurdish referendum.
The September vote on independence for Kurdistan caused many Christians to put their plans on hold. But not for long according to Pastor Thabet, “The referendum was the 25 September. The returning families stopped for a few days but they continue now.”
Karamles and other towns in the Nineveh Plains are not technically in Kurdistan but the Kurds want it to come under their governance. Christians in the area are split over the independence issue and there’s a growing fear that they are on the verge of another civil war.
Despite this Father Thabet is very glad to be home and sees a positive future for Karamles. He said, “If the international community and Iraqi government will be with us, to protect our rights, to protect our identity as Christians, the future will be very, very good.”
Open Doors has launched Hope for the Middle East, a seven year campaign uniting the global church to ensure every person in the Middle East, no matter what their faith, has a home, a future and a voice. As part of this, Open Doors is asking people to sign the Hope for the Middle East petition, which will be presented to the UN on 11 December 2017.
Iraq is number 7 on the 2017 Open Doors World Watch List. Iraq was once home to one of the largest Christian communities in the Middle East; today, the church in Iraq is in danger of disappearing completely. The IS militants have forced thousands of Christians to flee their homes. Even in areas of Iraq that aren't controlled by IS, Sharia is the basis of the law and Muslims are forbidden from leaving Islam.
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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 in over 60 countries for over 60 years. Last year it raised approximately $70 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. Open Doors UK & Ireland raised over £11 million.
Every year Open Doors publishes the World Watch List – a ranking of the 50 countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian. This is produced using detailed information provided by Open Doors co-workers in more than 60 countries, as well as independent experts. Data is gathered on five spheres of life - private, family, community, national and church life – plus a sixth sphere measuring the degree of violence impacting Christians. Persecution in each country is recorded by Open Doors using a point system. Open Doors' research methods and results have been independently audited by the International Institute for Religious Freedom. The 2017 World Watch List accounts for the 12 months ending 31 October 2016.