By Amy Penn
7/13/2017 Washington, D.C. (International Christian Concern) – In 2014, ISIS stormed onto the international stage with merciless rage. After three years of fighting, ISIS is slowly crumbling, with the liberation of Mosul marking a major milestone in the fight to end ISIS’ occupation of northern Iraq. The destruction left behind, however, is immense. Many families have nothing to restart their lives. Since ISIS’ initial attacks, International Christian Concern (ICC) has actively led projects and initiatives, especially in Qeraqosh, to serve those displaced and are now becoming one of the leaders in reviving many destroyed communities.
Progress is slow, but hopeful.
Between June and August 2014, ISIS scattered Christians from areas like Mosul and Qeraqosh, Iraq’s largest Christian majority town. Within weeks of Qeraqosh’s fall, ICC had several team members on the ground to interview Christians, investigate living conditions, and plan useful projects to provide immediate relief to internally displaced persons (IDPs). As ICC traveled through areas like Erbil, we saw schools repurposed into temporary shelters and too many people crammed into small areas lacking basic necessities.
ICC began finding and working with local partners to determine the best means of relief. Our first projects provided food, shelter, blankets, winter clothing, mattresses, heaters, and coats for IDPs as they prepared for winter. In the summer, ICC funded fans, refrigerators, and other supplies necessary to battle summer’s heat. The 10 relief projects totaled nearly $200,000 and assisted more than 2,000 families.
Time to Rebuild
Since 2015, ICC has built IDP housing and provided 18 small businesses for displaced Christians. ICC also supported the Iraqi Church, distributing Bibles to multiple churches that were experiencing a flood of IDPs.
In 2016 and 2017, ICC built housing for 10 IDP families still living in tents. The caravan houses featured indoor plumbing, water, and heat. ICC also built a well and water purification system. After two years, it is shocking to see how entire families have struggled to survive for so long.
With the recent developments in ISIS’ downfall, it’s now time to focus our assistance on sustainable development to rebuild communities and businesses. In October 2016, Iraqi forces liberated Qeraqosh, but few people returned because of Qeraqosh’s destruction and the close proximity of ISIS in Mosul.
There are, however, families that refused to surrender and are moving back to Qeraqosh to rebuild their community. Yas is an agricultural engineer who left behind a thriving business and community in Qeraqosh when ISIS invaded. Without Yas, there was no place for many people to buy seeds, insecticide, fertilizer, etc. When he fled, others fled as well.
During their absence, Yas and his wife wanted to return and rebuild their home, but they couldn’t, “I would be there again if there was water and electricity.”
This year, ICC helped Yas open another agricultural shop in Qeraqosh. Now, other IDPs have access to the supplies necessary for their own livelihood and are willing to return. As ICC helped start core businesses (like agriculture) in Qeraqosh, we also begin to build the necessary infrastructure to accommodate other families’ return.
Food, water, and clothing are still important elements in the rebuilding process. Long-term projects, however, are becoming increasingly vital. Security, electricity, and water are now the three most pressing needs. Results will not occur overnight, but small businesses and infrastructure projects create the foundation for sustainable redevelopment.
Progress has already begun. Rabea, another IDP from Qeraqosh contacted ICC last week to report that more than 200 families have returned with more moving back every day. These families could only return if they had access to the supplies necessary for their livelihood – supplies that Yas’ store can provide.
“Life is coming back…we will build the city again,” rejoiced Yas.