Iraqi families like that of 12-year old Noeh will receive assistance in returning home after they fled IS. (Photo: World Watch Monitor)
Iraqi families like’s 12-year-old Noeh’s have started to return to their homes following IS’s military defeat (Photo: World Watch Monitor)

Ethnic and religious minorities in northern Iraq are set to receive assistance worth US $55 million from the UN’s international development agency (UNDP), funded by the US government.

USAID, the development agency of the US government, said the money would be used to help minorities living in parts of Iraq that have been retaken from Islamic State, news site The Hill reports.

The $55 million is part of an initial $75 million pledged to the UNDP Funding Facility for Stabilization (FFS). Another $75 million has also been pledged, but is dependent on the UNDP improving its “accountability and transparency record”, according to USAID officials.

In October Vice President Mike Pence announced that the US would “no longer rely on the United Nations alone to assist persecuted Christians and other minorities in the wake of genocide and the atrocities of terrorist groups”, as UN agencies “often failed to help the most vulnerable communities”. Instead, he said, “the US will work hand in hand from this day forward with faith-based groups and private [organisations] to help those who are persecuted for their faith”.

USAID officials said they also want input from other agencies and organisations to determine how best to facilitate the return of minority groups to their homes in northern Iraq.

World Watch Monitor has reported about the hurdles Iraqi Christians face when they return home. A report published in June last year said many who had fled their homes had no desire to return, and that the arrival of IS was only the “tipping point” of a trend already gathering pace, as Christians experienced an “overall loss of hope for a safe and secure future”.

In a policy paper released alongside the report, the authors called on the EU to help establish an “accountability mechanism” to deal with incidents of religious and ethnic persecution and discrimination in Iraq and Syria, to ensure the future safety and security of Christians in the region.

According to human-rights advocate Ewelina Ochab, “security concerns remain an issue that has not been adequately addressed. In response to this failing, NGOs continue to call upon international institutions to establish safe zones in [the] Nineveh Plains”. In an article for Oxford Human Rights Hub, she says the guarantee of a “right to return”, as enshrined in international law, “means nothing if returnees are left unprotected on returning to their region”.