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Up to 15,000 Iraqi Christians returning home this month

Fr Andrzej Halemba (Courtesy Aid to the Church in Need)

Around 15,000 displaced Iraqi Christians are expected to return home in the space of a single month, a charity has said.

Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) says 3,000 families will likely return this month to Qaraqosh on the Nineveh Plains, which suffered some of the worst violence committed by Islamic State.

Christians are returning at such a rate that parents are increasingly concerned about securing places for their children at local schools. ACN Middle East projects coordinator Father Andrzej Halemba said that up to 10,000 school places could soon be available, with buildings being urgently repaired for the start of the new school year.

About 5,000 Christians have so far returned to Qaraqosh, however this is still only a fraction of the 50,000 who lived there until they were forced out in August 2014.

Fr Halemba said that the government in Baghdad was encouraging Christians to come back to Qaraqosh and other towns in Nineveh to take up public sector jobs.

“Many internally displaced people have married and many young people want to move to their villages for stability,” he said.

Fr Halemba, who is also acting chairman of the Nineveh Reconstruction Committee, said charities were struggling to rebuild infrastructure, such as electricity and water supplies, as people return to the area.

Even temperatures as high as 50c (122f) were not stopping Christians from making the journey, especially from cities such as Erbil in Kurdistan where people are escaping the increasingly fraught political environment ahead of the referendum on Kurdish independence.

“Christians note the referendum as a factor of concern,” Fr Halemba said.

Nearly 1,000 homes have already been repaired across Nineveh, but another 12,000 still need work before they are habitable again.

Aid to the Church in Need is a Pontifical Foundation directly under the Holy See that supports Christians wherever they are persecuted, oppressed or in need.