Extremists driven out of Iraq’s the Nineveh Plains “riddled the region with land mines” and “put bombs in children’s toys” according to a senior Catholic cleric.
Fr Luis Montes, Latin Episcopal Vicar for Kurdistan, told Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need: “Approximately 60 percent of the homes on the Nineveh Plains were burned down.
“The terrorists not only seized all of their belongings. They riddled the region with land mines.”
He said that members of Daesh (ISIS) had also “put bombs in with children’s toys” that would have exploded when people returned to their homes.
Fr Montes added: “It is true that some people were able to return to their houses. However, they were only able to determine that they still exist. Because it is impossible to live there.”
He said: “The mines first need to be cleared out of the entire region. Only then can the villages be restored, and [then] from the ground up. Everything still needs to be done, the people have nothing left.
“Despite everything, Iraqis have lost neither their smiles nor their hope.”
ACN’s project partner, Fr Montes added: “When we received the news that Daesh was retreating, a spontaneous celebration broke out in the refugee camps.
“The people went out into the streets to dance and sing, as though they did not have any other problems in their lives.”
He added: “They have not lost the hope of being able to return to their homes.”
Despite the challenges, Fr Montes said the Iraqi Christians lived “not only in peace, but also with joy.
“To talk about forgiveness with them is easy because they forgive without bearing a grudge. They are what gives us strength.”
He thanked ACN’s benefactors for their generosity, adding that the refugees “know that Christians from other countries have kept them alive. They always pray for their benefactors.”
The priest asked for continued support this winter, stating that the pressing need for refugees in Erbil is for “blankets and more blankets” as the average temperature is -3°C.
The charity continues to respond to urgent requests for aid from the Church in Iraq.
Neville Kyrke-Smith, Aid to the Church in Need (UK) National Director, said: “The continued compassion of ACN benefactors is ensuring that these displaced suffering Christians can remain in Erbil until it is safe for them to return to practice their Catholic faith in their own villages and towns in the Nineveh Plains.”
He added: “This month, the charity has approved a further urgent aid payment of more than £400,000 at this deeply difficult time to help thousands of displaced Christians and refugees in the Archdiocese of Erbil to ensure the Christian presence in northern Iraq.”