The Catholic charity, Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), is to spend £3.6 million in aid rebuilding 2,000 homes for Christians in Iraq.
ACN will support projects renovating 2,000 houses on the Nineveh Plains – 1,500 in Qaraqosh and 500 in Bartella, Bashiqua and Bahzani.
Father Andrzej Halemba, head of ACN in the Middle East, said he was encouraged that up to 35 per cent of Iraq’s Christian had already returned to their homes.
He said: “More than 30,000 Christians have in the meantime gone back to where they lived before the Islamist terrorist groups invaded.
“However, their situations are anything but easy.”
Father Halemba said that Christians are facing high heating and electricity costs due to a severe winter.
He added that although IS had been defeated in the region, their extremist ideas had taken root in some sections of society.
Rebuilding is being overseen by the Nineveh Reconstruction Committee (NRC), which was formed by the Chaldean, Syriac Orthodox and Syriac Catholic Churches.
Since late March 2017, the NRC has rebuilt nearly 3,000 houses – with ACN providing support for the renovation of 784 homes.
Father Halemba said: “It will be possible to achieve the greater objective – namely, to restore 6,000 houses – only if we provide concrete aid together with other players and only if this region is not left to its own devices.
“This would enable at least each second displaced person of the Christian minority to return,” he continued.
Later this month, in an ACN sponsored event, the Colosseum in Rome will be lit up in red to draw attention to the persecution of Christians around the world.
On Saturday 24 February, at 6 pm the Colosseum will be spotlit to represent the blood of Christians who have been wounded or lost their lives due to religious persecution. Simultaneously, in Syria and Iraq, prominent churches will be illuminated with red lights. In Aleppo, the St Elijah Maronite Cathedral will be lit, and in Mosul, the Church of St Paul, where, on December 24 2017, the first Mass was celebrated after the city’s liberation from Islamic State.
In their biennial report on anti-Christian persecution, released last year, ACN describe the forced exodus of Christians from Iraq as “very severe.”
Christians in the country may number as few as 150,000, a decline from 275,000 in 2015, the report states.
“Governments in the West and the UN failed to offer Christians in countries such as Iraq and Syria the emergency help they needed as genocide got underway,” the report said.
“If Christian organisations and other institutions had not filled the gap, the Christian presence could already have disappeared in Iraq and other parts of the Middle East,” it continued.
However, ACN cites signs of hope with the defeat of the Islamic State group in northern Iraq and, from Spring 2017, the return of some Christians to their homes on the Nineveh Plains.
PICTURE: A christian family returns to Ninevah Plains, Iraq ©ACN