BY JOHN PONTIFEX
AN IRAQI bishop has predicted that miserable living conditions in the Kurdish north of the country will spark yet another exodus of Christians determined to “leave for good”.
Archbishop Louis Sako of Kirkuk told the Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) that poor electricity supply as well as a lack of clean water, schools, jobs and health care in Kurdistan were speeding up Christian emigration.
His comments came amid reports of a series of attacks against Christians and churches over Christmas and the New Year in and around the city of Mosul.
The situation is prompting many faithful to escape further north to the relative peace of the area controlled by the Kurdish Regional Government.
But emphasising the problems Christians find when they get there, Archbishop Sako said: “In Kurdistan, the security is quite good, but there are no jobs, no services and facilities in the new villages built by the Kurdish government. Therefore many families are leaving the country for good.” According to ACN, Iraq’s Christian population has now fallen to barely 300,000. At the time of the last census, in 1987, Christians numbered 1.4 million.
Archbishop Sako said politicians in northern Iraq should focus on the humanitarian crisis and not be distracted by the country’s elections.
He said: “The local and central government should protect the citizens. Now all the political groups are busy with the elections. There is a real struggle for power.” He said that Christians in the Kurdish north were fed up of waiting for the situation to improve in their homelands further south.
“In years gone by, Christians left their houses and property and reached a secure area in the hope of being back soon. But now six years have passed.
“They want to be settled. They have no jobs, no schools and they have big problems with the language.
“There are no services – electricity, potable water, infrastructure are their problems.” His comments came as winter bit deep into the mountainous Kurdish region where the government built villages for displaced people – often constructed out of poor materials.
Prioritising help for the Middle East in line with a request from the Vatican, Aid to the Church in Need has given €50,000 (£44,500) in emergency help for stricken Christmas families in and around the northern Iraqi city of Zakho. The Christmas food parcels – including cheese, tinned meat, powdered milk, cooking oil, salt, sugar and soap – have been delivered by Chaldean Sisters.