More Christian families left the Nineveh Plains than returned to their hometowns last year amid ongoing security concerns in northern Iraq, according to a recently published report by Aid to the Church in Need.
The report, “Life after ISIS: New challenges to Christianity in Iraq,” documents how Iraqi Christians’ worries over Iran-backed militias operating in their region drive emigration and economic insecurity.
“Christians who have returned to their homes still feel unsafe, and substantially more insecure than other groups in the region mostly because of the violent activity of local militias,” Fr. Andrzej Halemba, the leader of ACN’s Nineveh Reconstruction Committee, wrote in the report’s foreword.
“Although economic concerns, especially employment, are paramount in some areas, it is impossible to decouple these from security considerations. These key factors need to be addressed to tackle the physical and economic insecurity that forces populations to move. If the tendency to emigrate is not stemmed, it will place, in turn, even greater pressure on Christians remaining in Iraq by reducing their critical mass and thus creating a less hospitable environment,” he said.
The ACN report found that 57% of Iraqi Christians surveyed said that they had considered emigration. Among them, 55% responded that they expect to leave Iraq by 2024.
The number of Christians living in areas formerly occupied by the Islamic State has already declined from 102,000 to 36,000 people since 2014. The report stated that some displaced Christians who returned to the Nineveh Plains as their homes were rebuilt are now choosing to leave.
“In the summer of 2019, the Christian population of this region reached an inflection point, with more families leaving their hometown than returning. In Baghdeda alone, 3,000 Syriac Catholics left over the course of just three months in 2019 – a drop of 12% in the number of Syriac Catholics in the town,” it said.
With continued migration, the future of the Western Neo-Aramaic language known as Surith, and sometimes called “Syriac,” is also threatened if the children of immigrants do not retain the language. One Christian in Bartella told ACN: “Learning Syriac is important because it’s the language of Jesus.”
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