Over 8,000 Christian families have returned to their villages in the Nineveh Plain in the last two months and nearly 800 houses have been rebuilt.
Churches play a key role in encouraging families to return. So Open Doors’ local partners are financially supporting churches as they help those who want to return by giving grants for rebuilding their homes. Thanks to this, 795 houses have been restored in the villages.
According to one of Open Doors’ partners, some families are waiting to move home until the end of the school year: “People who are still living in displacement are waiting till the end of the school year in June. So we expect in the summer a rise of the number of returnees.”
Faraj Toma Youssef’s family is one of the 318 families in Qaraqosh who received help from Open Doors’ local partners in Iraq to repair their houses – both with financial support and practical advice on the renovation process.
The help enabled Faraj’s family to repair broken windows and ceilings, fix the bathroom, repair the holes in the walls and paint over all the bad memories of Self-proclaimed Islamic State (IS). They even had to stop up a tunnel that had been dug to enable IS fighters to cross from one side of the road to the other unseen.
Faraj said, “The first time I came back to Qaraqosh and saw the huge mess I said to myself, ‘It will be very, very difficult to return here if nobody will help me.’ But then your help came, and I was able to repair my house completely for my family. Because of that we are able to live here again. This is a new birth. For me and my family. Thank you very much.
“Without any support, Christianity might disappear completely from this country. That would be such a shame. Iraq without Christian is like a garden without roses,” Faraj said.
Partners of Open Doors in Iraq have also reported that around 50 families have left Qaraqosh and the surrounding villages in the last two months. Many of these families have finally received their visa to move abroad and have taken the opportunity find a safer place to live.
IS drove Christians from the Nineveh Plain in August 2014. Two years later the Iraqi army and its allies were able to push IS out of the villages and later from Mosul. In 2017 Christians were allowed to return to their homes but most returned to see their houses burnt or bombed and their belongings stolen. Through partners Open Doors is working to help repair houses starting with those that are least badly damaged.
Iraq is number 8 on the Open Doors World Watch List. Persecution comes primarily from IS – whose ideology is not dead – and other radical militants. Tens of thousands of Christians remain displaced following the IS insurgency that started in 2014. In addition, Islamic leaders, clan leaders, extended family and citizens all put pressure on Christians from a Muslim background to recant, sometimes using torture or physical attack. Converts risk harassment or discrimination at check-points, universities, work places and government buildings; they may also lose jobs, inheritance rights, or the ability to marry.