02/12/2024 Iraq (International Christian Concern) – The specter of impending camp closures in Iraq has heightened concerns among the country’s religious minorities, particularly those who were displaced during the ISIS takeover from 2014 to 2017. The crisis forced between 6-7 million Iraqis out of their homes, with hundreds of thousands belonging to religious minorities like Christians and Yazidis. Most of the remaining camp-residing IDPs in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq belong to the Yazidi ethno-religious minority.
While some of Iraq’s Christian population has returned to areas such as the Nineveh Plains, the majority have either stayed in the Kurdistan region or emigrated abroad. Over the past two decades, Iraq’s Christian community has seen an alarming 80% reduction due to war, persecution, and a breakdown of trust and order in the nation, which is home to more than 46 million people. Currently, Christians make up less than 1% of the Iraqi population, numbering less than 200,000.
Among the displaced, an estimated 1.1 million Iraqis remain, with approximately 175,000 residing in camps. This figure does not include the 273,000 officially registered Syrian refugees in Iraq, many of whom also live in camps in the Kurdistan region.
According to a USAID report, 4.8 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) have returned since 2017. Presently, there are 24 camps still operational in Iraq, with 23 located in the northern Kurdistan region.
The Iraqi government recently declared its intention to close all remaining IDP camps in the country by July 30, 2024, in a bid to end protracted displacement. While similar announcements have been made in the past, it is unclear if the government will provide an extension this summer. The government has offered assistance stipends and reserved government job positions for those who choose to return. However, many remaining IDPs express hesitation due to the war-devastated conditions in their original home areas, such as west Mosul and Sinjar. Factors such as inadequate services, limited livelihood opportunities, and a breakdown of trust with other ethnic and religious groups continue to deter them from returning and rebuilding.
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