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Christians from Iraq say it is not safe to return, despite PM's plea for them to come back

by Cara Bentley
Official Presidential website Handout via REUTERS - Banner image
Official Presidential website Handout via REUTERS

Christians from Iraq are doubting the reality of the offer of a safe return, saying there are still too many dangers and not enough economic opportunity.   

Iraq's Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi recently encouraged Christians who have fled in recent years, estimated to be more than 1 million, to return home. However, Christians still in the country warn that there has not been sufficient change to guarantee safety. 

Father Behnam Benoka, an Iraqi based partner of the religious freedom charity Open Doors questioned the wisdom of the statement, saying: "How can Christians return to Iraq while many are still living in undignified conditions and facing persecution from Sunni and Shia fundamentalist groups?

"Instead of welcoming Christians back to Iraq, the first concern should be that the remaining Christians in Iraq will not yet still leave the country as well. Because they are no longer able to resist."

Iraq's PM made the call for Christians to return in a meeting with the head of the Chaldean Catholic church. He stressed that full support would be provided to facilitate this return, according to a statement from his office.
 
Years of war and conflict have driven an estimated 90 percent of Iraq's Christians out of their homeland: what was a community of approximately 1.5 million people in the early 90s, is now an estimated 175,000. 

Following the defeat of Islamic State in 2017, some have returned but have found little in the way of basic services, jobs, or security. There are reports of a resurgence of Islamic State and local militias fighting for control. Sometimes, returning Christians find their homes intact, but occupied by strangers. 
 
Anna Hill, spokesperson for Open Doors' Hope for the Middle East campaign, said: "We asked Iraqi Christians what they would need in order to stay. The things they asked for were legal equality, improved livelihood and a central role for Christians in rebuilding society. 

"The Government must work to increase job opportunities, improve infrastructure and guarantee security for Christians not only to return but to flourish, making a recognised, positive contribution to society."
 

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