Following the liberation of the Nineveh Plains from extremist group Daesh (ISIS) – plans are now underway to rebuild homes for thousands of Iraqi Christians forced from their homes.
Around 12,000 homes need to be rebuilt, according to a survey carried out by Aid to the Church in Need, the Catholic charity for persecuted and other suffering Christians – and in May 2017 the rebuilding of the first 100 houses in the Nineveh Plains began.
The start of the reconstruction was marked by the ceremonial planting of olive trees in the Christains villages of Bartella, Karamlesh and Qaraqosh.
Aid to the Church in Need’s Father Andrzej Halemba, who is acting chairman of the Nineveh Reconstruction Committee (NRC), described the “Olive Tree Ceremonies” in early May as a “historic and unrepeatable occasion for the future of Christianity in Iraq”.
The NRC is an ecumenical venture between the region’s three main Christian Churches: the Syriac Orthodox Church, the Syriac Catholic Church and the Chaldean Church.
Father Halemba said: “By starting work on these first three reconstruction sites, we are hoping to send a clear signal to the thousands of Christian families who were driven from their homes on the Plains of Nineveh and who are now living in makeshift conditions in Erbil and other towns of Iraqi Kurdistan.
“This is a decisive historical moment. If we now miss the opportunity to help the Christians return to their homes on the Plains of Nineveh, these families might well decide to leave Iraq forever. That would be an enormous tragedy.”
He added: “The presence of the Christians in this region is of vital importance, and not only historically, but also politically and culturally.
“The Christians represent a bridge of peace between the various Muslim groups that are fighting each other – they make a crucial contribution to the educational system and are respected by all moderate Muslims.”
But despite rebuilding work beginning, there is still a very long way to go before all the displaced families who want to can go home.
Since 2014 the charity has been providing emergency aid including food parcels for displaced families in Erbil who were forced to flee the Daesh violence in Mosul and towns in the surrounding Nineveh Plains.
ACN’s project partner in northern Iraq, Archbishop Bashar Warda oversees the emergency aid being given to more than 100,000 internally displaced persons in Erbil.
The archbishop visited London in late May seeking to raise awareness of the ongoing security concerns of Iraq’s Christians as well as requesting ongoing help for displaced families who fled the Nineveh Plains.
As the rebuilding commenced in May, ACN had just paid out more than £420,000 (500,000 euros) to provide six months’ rent for 1,800 displaced Christian families.
Article first published in The Portal http://www.portalmag.co.uk/