Four years since IS seized the town of Karamles in northern Iraq’s Nineveh Plains, the local Christian community are “returning, albeit slowly, to normal”, AsiaNews reports.
Hundreds of Christians joined in a procession following a Mass at the weekend, holding candles and chanting psalms, to celebrate their return and the new life that is emerging in the devastated town.
Reconstruction is the number-one priority. “We have reached 50-60 [per cent] of our target – at least 400 out of 800 [homes], but some will have to be abandoned because they are too damaged,” Fr. Paul Thabit Mekko, head of the Christian community in Karamles, said.
The plans include setting up small farms and food companies to create employment opportunities, and building wells, gardens and playgrounds. For the housing alone, around $1.5 million is needed, according to Fr. Mekko.
But he said that, while “a feeling of fear pervaded” for the first Christians who returned to Karamles last year, they are now “returning, albeit slowly, to normal”.
“The return of Christians, their number and their presence in the country remain a key factor for the future,” he said. Apart from encouraging them to return to their hometown, the government also needs to “provide them with greater autonomy and increase their participation in state institutions”, Fr. Mekko said.
In contrast, some of the Christians who fled the Nineveh Plains city of Qaraqosh (also known as Baghdida and Hamdaniya) four years ago, finding refuge in Baghdad, say they still don’t feel safe enough to return, Al Jazeera reports.
“There’s nothing for me to go back to. No jobs, no home, let alone safety and security,” said Petrus, 50 who now resides in a camp for internally displaced people (IDPs) in Baghdad.
Another former resident of Qaraqosh, Nahla Khadr, a mother-of-two, said she would rather stay in Baghdad, or even leave the country, than return to her hometown, as “Nineveh will never feel safe again”.
Although IS was defeated in December 2017, according to a former member of parliament, Assyrian Christian Yonadam Kanna, the religious tensions are still tangible in the areas devastated by IS.
“Only 20 families went back, but even some of those returned here,” Kanna said. “They don’t feel safe there and there’s no opportunity or means to rebuild a life in Nineveh.”
Fr. Martin Dawood, head of the citizens’ affairs department at the Christian Endowment Office, said: “They are afraid that [IS] or a similar group may return, and that this time they wouldn’t be lucky to flee in time.”