Lest We Forget About Iraqi Christians
Following UN Security Council Resolution 2379 establishing the Investigative Team in Iraq, the painful and arduous task of assembling evidence to bring Daesh fighters responsible for genocide against religious minorities in Iraq to justice will finally soon begin. However, the pursuit of justice also requires the survivors to be given practical help in rebuilding their lives and communities. That task needs to get underway immediately. Some steps have been already taken.
On September 28, 2017, Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), a pontifical foundation, organised a conference in Rome focusing on the efforts to rebuild the Nineveh Plains post-Daesh. The conference was attended by Patriarch from the Middle East, ambassadors, and other actors with involvement in the project.
During the conference, those working on rebuilding the Nineveh Plains explained the progress which has been made since the area was liberated from Daesh. According to ACN and the Nineveh Reconstruction Committee, approximately 13,000 homes, 363 Church properties, and 140 public properties were destroyed by Daesh during its two-year reign over the area. Rough estimates for rebuilding the 13,000 homes alone is said to run to more than $250 million.
Despite the level of destruction and the high cost of rebuilding, over a thousand private houses in Quaragosh have already been renovated. This has allowed some to return to the area. Another 600 homes in Quaragosh are currently in the process of being renovated. Progress is slow but steady with the aim of ensuring that Iraqi Christians can return to populate their indigenous lands.
As the area is rebuilt, questions remain as to whether Iraqi Christians who have already left the region and are currently in Lebanon, Jordan or Turkey, will return to the Nineveh Plains.
Despite being some distance from the areas most affected by Daesh atrocities, Iraqi Christians in exile face several challenges.
In Jordan, for example, Iraqi Christians do not live in camps. Instead, they live in private accommodation, often heavily subsidised by local churches and humanitarian organisations. Whole families often occupy small buildings which lack air conditioning, proper beds and other essential facilities. Poor living conditions aside, Iraqi Christians in Jordan are not recognised as refugees. Instead, they have visitor status. This is a concern as it deprives Iraqis of rights and assistance to which they would be entitled if they were refugees. They also do not have the right to work in Jordan. To be able to work, Iraqis would need work permits which are often expensive. If, in desperation, they try to work illegally, they could face deportation. In sharp contrast, their situation differs significantly from that of Syrians who fled to Jordan as a result of the Syrian Civil War. Thanks to the Supporting Syria Conference in London in February 2016, Jordan pledged to grant 200,000 work permits to Syrian refugees. Both groups fled persecution and mass atrocities, however, because of political pressures, only one of the groups gained an adequate level of attention and support. The UK government and other states must work together to extend the assistance provided to Syrian refugees in Jordan, but also to Iraqi refugees who fled Daesh.
Registration to obtain refugee status is a long process. Some Iraqi Christians who fled Daesh to Jordan three years ago are still waiting for their refugee status to be determined. Without this status, they cannot resettle. The very long waiting period for such a determination is of concern. This needs to be reviewed to establish the reasons for the delays and to ensure that all cases are taken care of smoothly.
While there is some education available for Iraqi Christians, the schools predominately provide primary education. Teenagers and young adults do not have a place where they could continue their education. Schools are costly in Jordan. Those teens and young adults cannot gain the necessary knowledge to be able to undertake a job in the future; they cannot work to gain practical skills to be able to earn a living. The reality of life in Jordan for them is a vicious circle of helplessness.
Most Iraqi Christians do not want to return to Iraq, as they have lost hope that Iraq will ever be safe for Christians again. However, this may change. As the Nineveh Plains are rebuilt, hope may return to the region. Despite some progress, Iraqi Christians in Jordan cannot return to their homes even if they would like to. The reconstruction process has just begun. There is still a long way to go before all 13,000 homes are rebuilt. This is where international support is needed. Organisations like ACN are relying on private funding to ensure they are able to continue to play a significant role in restoring life in the Nineveh Plains. Their contribution is limited by funding. A global and state-centred assistance plan is needed to ensure that the region once destroyed by Daesh flourishes again.