A senior aid worker within the Chaldean Catholic archdiocese in northern Iraq has described the Christian population there as “on the verge of extinction” and is appealing to the British and US governments for humanitarian assistance.
Stephen Rasche, legal counsel and head of resettlement programmes for the diocese, addressed both Houses of UK Parliament yesterday on the need for humanitarian support for Iraqi Christians.
Speaking to the Catholic Herald on Wednesday, Rasche said: “The future really does hang in the balance.” He added: “Much of it depends on the continued support and assistance that [Iraqi Christians] receive from the West over the next six to 12 months.
“History could look back on this and say ‘in their time of greatest need, they didn’t get the support and the community disappeared’. That could happen. We need to be honest about that.”
When ISIS took control of the Nineveh Plains in northern Iraq in 2014, Christian families were forced to flee, many seeking refuge in Erbil, 80km east of Mosul, where the Chaldean Catholic archdiocese is coordinating the aid effort. The diocese has been dependent on private donations, much of it from Aid to the Church in Need.
“For us, this is a really critical point, we’re trying to show them they can rebuild, there can be a future, but at the same time we’re looking at our funding running out,” Rasche said.
Although ISIS is gradually losing territory in Iraq, some 10,500 Christian families remain in Erbil as IDPs (internally displaced persons). Since 2003, the Christian population in Iraq has declined from 1.4 million to 275,000.