A leading Iraqi bishop has spoken out against the miserable living conditions of Christians who have fled to the Kurdish north, saying that the crisis is sparking yet another mass exodus of people determined to “leave the country for good.”
Archbishop Louis Sako of Kirkuk told Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) that a poor electricity supply as well as a lack of clean water, schools, jobs and healthcare in Kurdistan was speeding up the emigration of Christians from the country.
His comments come amid reports of a series of attacks against Christians and churches over Christmas and the New Year in and around the city of Mosul. The situation is prompting many faithful to escape further north to the relative peace of the area controlled by the Kurdish Regional Government.
Emphasizing the problems Christians find when they get there, Archbishop Sako said: “In Kurdistan, the security is quite good, but there are no jobs, no services and facilities in the new villages built by the Kurdish government. Therefore many families are leaving the country for good.”
Archbishop Sako’s comments come at a time of increasing concern for the Church’s survival in Iraq amid reports that the country’s Christian population has plummeted to barely 300,000. At the time of the last census, in 1987, Christians totaled 1.4 million.
Archbishop Sako said politicians in northern Iraq should focus on the humanitarian crisis and not be distracted by the country’s upcoming elections. He said, “The local and central government should protect the citizens. Now all the political groups are busy with the elections .There is a real struggle for power.”
He said that Christians in the Kurdish north were fed up of waiting for the situation to improve in their homelands further south. “In years gone by, Christians left their houses and property and reached a secure area in the hope of being back soon. But now six years have passed.”
The archbishop continued, “They want to be settled. They have no jobs, no schools and they have big problems with the language. There are no services – electricity, portable water, infrastructure are their problems.”
His comments come as winter bites deep into the mountainous Kurdish region where the government built villages for displaced people – often constructed out of poor materials.
Prioritizing help for the Middle East in line with a direct request from the Vatican, Aid to the Church in Need has given over $70,000 in emergency help for stricken Christmas families in and around the northern Iraqi city of Zakho. Christmas food packages – including cheese, tinned meat, powdered milk, cooking oil, salt, sugar and soap – have been delivered by Chaldean Sisters in their van.
ACN is also providing emergency help for Christians who have fled abroad to countries including neighboring Syria and Jordan as well as Turkey.
Archbishop Sako said he was “confused” as to the cause of recent attacks in Mosul, where a series of churches have come under attack, three Christians were murdered and a Christian student was kidnapped from her university in Mosul. He added, “Who is behind the attacks? There is no proof.”
In the mostly Christian town of Bartilla, about 30 miles north of Mosul, in the Nineveh plain, a car bomb exploded on Monday, January 4th, in a market place. Archbishop Sako said the motive behind the attack was probably political.
The blast took place near St. George’s Church, which is in the same town as the church that was attacked on Christmas Day morning by extremists. A dozen people were reportedly injured in the latest attack. Five were hospitalized. The explosion also damaged dozens of homes and shops.
Archbishop Sako said, “Some attacks are intended to postpone the elections or to cancel them or even determine what happens in them.”