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ICC Note:

With the full liberation of the Nineveh Plains from ISIS, previously displaced Christians are returning to their towns only to find their homes destroyed. As families work to rebuild their homes and livelihoods, the memories of the militants who once occupied the Nineveh Plains continue to haunt those who fearfully fled. These memories, combined with the high cost of rebuilding, continue to deter a number of Christians from ever returning home. Concern about their long-term safety continues to permeate Iraq’s Christian community, and some have been vocal in expressing their concern about their vulnerability in a post-ISIS Iraq.

09/08/2017 Iraq (World Watch Monitor) – With towns and cities such as Qaraqosh and Bashiqa in Iraq’s Nineveh Plains now liberated from Islamic State (IS) forces and their original inhabitants beginning to return, there is confidence among some local Christian leaders that life is slowly beginning to get back to normal.

“I am optimistic, yes, very optimistic,” says Qaraqosh’s Syriac Catholic Archbishop Yohanna Petros Mouche. “When you look around the villages you see that life is back again.”

A drive through Qaraqosh proves his point. A young boy cycles by, carrying a plastic bag full of bread, while Arabic graffiti on the wall of a house in Bashiqa burnt down by retreating IS forces reads: “Tomorrow will be more beautiful.”

The return of Nineveh’s Christians is most visible in Qaraqosh. About 1,500 families – more than 20% of the total Christian population before IS came – have now gone back. A local priest, Fr. George, has helped facilitate the return through a Centre for Support and Encouragement, a project based in Nineveh’s liberated towns to help returnees who fled the IS invasion.

With a big smile he reports: “Some 50 people a day register at our centre to have their homes restored. More will come.”

The centre was built to help families co-ordinate the rebuilding of destroyed homes. Fr. George explains that workers at the centre have determined the level of repair of 6,936 damaged homes in Qaraqosh, each categorised as level A-C, depending on their damage: “Level C means that the home is damaged, but can easily be repaired with US$5,000 or less. Level B homes are fully burned from the inside or are more damaged in other ways. Level A means that a home is fully destroyed, collapsed because of a bomb for example. In Qaraqosh we have 4,774 level C, 2,046 level B and 116 level A,” he says.

A report for each home shows every broken door and window, or hole in the wall, so when its owner wants to return to Qaraqosh, the centre’s committee can accurately estimate repair costs.

When a repair grant is approved by the centre, the family gets the money and is responsible for arranging their own repairs. The centre keeps a list of tradesmen ready to take on the work. To maintain accountability, a family must give all receipts for work done to the centre, and return any money not spent. Some families have savings that they also put towards rebuilding their home.

In Bashiqa, 20 miles north of Qaraqosh, a similar centre also operates as a base where families can sleep while they restore their homes.

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