50,000 Christians return to their homes in Iraq's Nineveh Plains but 80,000 still displaced

(Reuters/Marko Djurica)A priest leads the Easter Mass in Mar Gewargis (St George) Chaldean Catholic church, which was damaged by Islamic State militants, in the town of Tel Esqof, Iraq, April 16, 2017.

As many as 50,000 Iraqi Christians have already returned to their homes in the Nineveh Plains following the defeat of the Islamic State, but 80,000 remain displaced inside the country, a prominent Assyrian humanitarian revealed.

In an interview with The Christian Post, Juliana Taimoorazy, the founder of the Iraqi Christian Relief Council, said that many Christians who have sought shelter in displacement camps in northern Iraq have not yet returned to their homes because they are still waiting on assistance to help them rebuild the destroyed houses, villages and churches.

Taimoorazy, who also serves as a senior fellow at the Philos Project, stated that about 55,000 have returned to their homes throughout the Nineveh Plains, adding that there were between 150,000 to 180,000 displaced Christians when ISIS took over the region in 2014.

"There are many who left Iraq. They went to Turkey. They went to Lebanon. They went to Jordan. The number of Iraqi Christians that are in Turkey is about 45,000. In Jordan, it is about 20,000. In Northern Iraq, we probably would want to say that there are at least 80,000 to 100,000 are displaced in the Nothern Part of Iraq," she said.

She noted that those figures were not official as there is not a census system in place to count the actual number of displaced people, but she said that the figures were obtained from various aid organizations and officials from Iraq.

The Iraqi Christian Relief Council has helped rebuild at least 20 Christian homes in Baghdedeh (also known as Qaraqosh), according to Taimoorazy.

She said that as many as 26,000 Christians have already returned to the town, which was once home to about 50,000 Christians.

"Schools are starting to function a little bit again. There is a hospital there that ISIS did not destroy that is a little bit functional. People have returned to the destroyed churches. They are not flattened. But they are burned," she explained, adding that people are already celebrating mass and Christians are also expecting to celebrate Christmas in the town's churches.

Apart from humanitarian aid, there is also a need for assistance in rebuilding the infrastructure in Christian towns.

Last month, the Chaldean Archbishop of Arbil, Bashar Warda, called on U.S. President Donald Trump to redirect aid to the displaced Christians.

The bishop called for urgent action to help 20,000 Christian families —around 100,000 people — who were driven from their homes.

Warda contended that it is only fair to ask the U.S. government to treat the case of Christians differently because of the violence unleashed against them by ISIS.

In October, Vice President Mike Pence had vowed that the Trump administration will change its policy to allow aid to go directly to groups that are working to rebuild religious minority community in Iraq, instead of having to go through the U.N.

Taimoorazy has expressed hope that U.S. aid will eventually reach the aid organizations in Iraq by early 2018.

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