In 2014, ISIS began to establish its “caliphate” in Syria and Iraq. This meant torture, forced displacement, sexual slavery and abuse, as well as forced conversions, looting, the destruction of churches and many other horrors besides. There was no place for religious pluralism: establishing the purely Islamic state meant a genocidal campaign against religious minorities. This genocide is recognised by the Council of Europe, the European Parliament, US Congress and the House of Commons, among others.
In December, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi declared military victory over ISIS in Iraq. But the battle against the group’s ideology will continue. Many now wish to return to their homes. This is undoubtedly true of many Christians who have stayed in Kurdistan in camps for Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) for more than three years, after being forcibly displaced in August 2014. These communities have the so-called right to return to their land and homes, protected by international law and the Iraqi constitution.
But enforcing that right may be challenging, and some steps have to be taken to ensure that the right is translated into reality.
First, whole villages and towns must be rebuilt. According to Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), in nine Nineveh Plains towns more than 13,000 houses were vandalised by ISIS. The cost of rebuilding them was estimated at more than $240 million (£175 million) in early 2017. But not all homes can be rebuilt. New homes may be needed to accommodate the families who lost everything.
As financial resources are limited, progress is slow. In Qaraqosh, more than 1,000 houses have already been rebuilt. Another 600 are currently being worked on. The humanitarian assistance provided by ACN is invaluable. However, funding for the reconstruction projects is still a problem.
Some countries are providing substantial support. Hungary, with its Hungary Helps project, has allocated $2 million towards the reconstruction of Christian communities near Mosul. Earlier this month, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) announced more funding for the “needs of vulnerable religious and ethnic minority communities in Ninewa Province, especially those who have been victims of atrocities by ISIS”. This is a positive development. But more funding will be needed.
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