Giving hope to persecuted Christians since 1995
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ICC Note: Persecution is a multi-headed monster. One of the subtle but pervasive aspects of persecution is economic privation and job discrimination creating a second class citizenry. This is why ICC provides job training and micro finance to persecuted Christians
Personal Struggles of Iraqi Refugees

Bundled against the cold, a handful of Iraqi Christians served their guests hot sweet coffee in a blown-out concrete school building, all that remained of their village in northern Iraq last month.

Three months ago, the village of Havrez lay completely deserted, empty since Saddam Hussein’s forces destroyed it in 1978. Until recently, anyone willing to follow a faint set of tire tracks through farm fields to find Havrez could be forgiven for assuming that the lone concrete structure was still vacant.

But two weeks ago, Iraqi Kurdistan’s Christian finance minister, Sarkis Aghajan, began funding the construction of new homes for 25 Armenians from Baghdad who returned to the village outside Dohuk city as part of an increasing flow of Christians forced northward and abroad by escalating violence in Iraq ’s south.

“Some 40 houses will be built urgently as a first stage before the snowfall in order to house those miserable families,” a member of Aghajan’s staff told Compass.

For the villagers, day-to-day survival supersedes debate over a safe haven.

“The UNHCR gave us warm tents, but they collapsed under the heavy rains last week,” one villager told Compass. Now all the women and men sleep in two large concrete rooms, the windows covered with tarp to retain some heat while they await their new homes.

Like many members of the refugee village, Adis Yohannes Markar was a former car electrician in Baghdad . He does not know how to raise crops and has no source of income at his new home in the middle of farming country.

“This is my father’s village and my grandfather’s, it is my home” he replied, when asked why he didn’t move to the cities of Zakho or Dohuk, where he might have practiced his trade.

“These are the poor people of Iraq who have nowhere else to go,” explained one visitor to the village. Most Christians with the means to do so have already left the country, and a second wave of refugees – the poorest of the poor – have been moving steadily to the Kurdish controlled region in the north.

The influx of refugees has fed unemployment and dramatically increased the cost of living.

“The biggest problem here in the north is economical, not religious,” the Christian deputy governor of Dohuk, George Shlimon, told Compass last month. “People fleeing north have no experience farming; they need jobs.”

But most refugees prefer unemployment in the north to sectarian violence in the south.

Islamic gangs have begun implementing a tax on Christians in the city of Mosul , Christian sources still in the city told Compass. Those who refuse to pay are often kidnapped and killed.

“The sheikh at the mosque next to our house told Muslims over the mosque loudspeaker not to buy houses from the Christians because the land was already theirs,” a Christian from Mosul told Compass in Dohuk last month. The former bank manager had fled north with his family after his home had been bombed for refusing to pay 3 million Dinars (US$2,276) to a local gang.

Last week, three Armenian Orthodox brothers were killed at their car repair shop in Mosul while physically resisting a terrorist group that had attempted to take them hostage, sources in the city told Compass.

In a separate incident last week, a Christian man identified only as “Khayri” was killed and his young child held for ransom. The captors initially demanded US$50,000 for the child’s return but eventually accepted US$35,000 from a relative, sources in Mosul said. The Christian’s widow and two children have now moved to the predominantly Syrian Orthodox village of Bartalla , 25 kilometers (15 miles) east of Mosul .