The U.N. refugee agency says almost half of the Christian population in the Iraqi city of Mosul has fled after attacks and threats. UNHCR says nearly 10,000 people have fled to other areas in the past week. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from UNHCR headquarters in Geneva.
The U.N. refugee agency says the Ministry of Displacement and Migration in Mosul reports more than 1,500 families have been displaced so far. It says it cannot confirm the exact figure, but is very concerned about the situation in Mosul that is causing this mass displacement of Christians.
U.N. refugee spokesman, Ron Redmond, says at least 10 field assessment missions have gone to areas surrounding Mosul to check on the situation. He says initial reports indicate most Christian Iraqis decided to leave the city following direct as well as indirect threats or intimidation.
"One of those interviewed witnessed the killing of a Christian Iraqi on the street, while several of the displaced told us that they had received printed threats at the university campuses, in their homes and through text messages on their mobile phones," he said. "Several others told our teams that they left when they heard news of 11 reported killings of Christians in Mosul. And, others were warned by family members, friends, neighbors of potential threats and they decided to leave before it was too late."
Redmond says there is no firm indication as to who is issuing these threats. He says the Iraqi authorities reportedly have deployed more than 1,000 additional police to Mosul to protect the Christians.
Mosul is about 390 kilometers north of Baghdad. It remains one of Iraq's more violent cities. The Iraqi authorities and U.S. military say al-Qaida and the Sunni Islamist militant group allied to Osama bin Laden are still active in Mosul.
Redmond says the thousands of Christians who fled Mosul to other areas have many needs.
"Most of those who fled are staying with extended family members. There is an urgent need for food, clothing, non-food items like mattresses, blankets, stoves. They also need access to health facilities, hygiene kits, clean water and their children, of course, are unable to go to school, so things need to be done to get them into classrooms," he said.
Redmond says most of the displaced say they fear for their lives and are not thinking of returning home for now. A few said they would only return if and when their safety and security could be assured by the local authorities.