ICC Note: The conflict in Iraq has created a humanitarian crisis of massive proportions. More than 2 million people have been displaced, with religious minorities suffering much of the greatest losses. The churches in Iraq and other religious organizations have provided much of the relief efforts to care for those in need, along with aid from the UN and other organizations.
12/18/2014 Iraq (The Whig) The holiday season is in full swing, with many Canadians enjoying the carefree pleasures of Christmas office parties and concerts. Others are looking forward to attending Christmas Eve church services, or getting together with family and friends over a turkey dinner.
But halfway around the world, Christmas will be anything but carefree for Iraq’s persecuted Christian communities.
Forced to flee their homes to escape the onslaught of well-armed jihadists, displaced Christians live in a perpetual “crisis mode,” according to Carl Hétu, national director of the Canadian branch of the Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA), a papal agency that provides humanitarian assistance and pastoral care.
Last summer, the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, launched a military offensive, capturing large swaths of Iraq, using mass murder, public beheadings and the enslavement of women and girls to subjugate captured territories. Large parts of northern Iraq were cleansed of Christians, Yazidis and other religious minorities.
“In August, it was total chaos,” Hétu said when contacted in New York City, where he was attending meetings at CNEWA’s international headquarters. Terrified Christians had no time to pack or gather the necessities of life, fleeing with only the clothes on their backs.
Last month, Hétu told the House of Commons foreign affairs committee that approximately 120,000 Christians have fled to the semi-autonomous Iraqi province of Kurdistan. The Kurds have welcomed the desperate Christians with open arms, despite struggling to defend Kurdistan against the jihadist threat.
The current living conditions for the displaced Christian population in Kurdistan are uncomfortable but not life-threatening, said Mark Huckstep, who visited northern Iraq in November. He’s a representative of the United Kingdom-based Barnabas Fund, a Christian non-governmental organization (NGO) that provides humanitarian assistance to Christians in need.
However, the internally displaced persons (IDPs) that Huckstep saw were “crammed” into churches, tents and portable cabins. And in a telephone interview from the NGO’s London office, he said.