News / Middle East

Thousands of Christians Flee Iraq Fighting

A Christian family, who fled from the violence in Mosul two days ago, stays at a school in Arbil, in Iraq's Kurdistan region, June 27, 2014.
A Christian family, who fled from the violence in Mosul two days ago, stays at a school in Arbil, in Iraq's Kurdistan region, June 27, 2014.
Lisa Schlein

The U.N. refugee agency reports thousands of people from predominantly Christian communities in an Iraqi town near Mosul have been fleeing their homes this week because of nearby violence generated by militant Islamist rebels.

Islamist insurgents reportedly launched mortar attacks on the historic Assyrian town of Qaraqosh on Wednesday, panicking the local Christian community to take flight. This town of 50,000 people is about 50 kilometers southeast of Iraq’s second largest city of Mosul.  

Armed men from ISIL, a militant Sunni Muslim group, seized control of this town two weeks ago from the Shi'ite-run government. U.N. refugee spokeswoman Melissa Fleming says most of the estimated 10,000 Christians who have fled have gone to the more secure Kurdish areas of Iraq.

“They fled by bus, car, and taxi into Iraq’s northern Kurdistan region on Wednesday night. Many of them are women and children staying with family, relatives, friends, schools, community centers, mostly in Irbil," she said. "They tell us they fled in a big rush and did not bring many belongings with them. So, that is a sign of how afraid they are.”  

Fleming says UNHCR and local volunteers have distributed essential items, such as quilts and mattresses, plastic sheeting and hygiene kits at schools and community centers where the displaced are sheltering.

An estimated 300,000 Iraqis from Mosul’s Ninewa province and elsewhere have arrived in the Kurdistan region since the al-Qaida splinter group seized Mosul. Fleming says this latest influx of displaced will put more pressure on limited resources. She says there is a particular shortage of housing and fuel supplies.

The UNHCR spokeswoman tells VOA the Christians fled preemptively, not because they were being deliberately targeted.

“They were hearing mortars," she said. "They feared being targeted because there are absolutely accounts of other incidents involving Christians whereby they were told they needed to convert or die. So, certainly there is a widespread fear among the Christian community in this area.”  

A female resident from a mostly Christian town in the Mosul region says conditions are very bad since ISIL seized control.

“Nothing is the same," she said. "Since 15 days ago, we don’t have security, electricity and water. Everybody is afraid of ISIS and salaries haven’t been paid either.”

Apparently conditions for some people who fled to Irbil are no better. The UNHCR reports staff who visited a school sheltering hundreds of displaced people found no showers or air conditioning to protect them from the sweltering heat. Aid workers say people are living in classrooms where daytime temperatures exceed 40 degrees Celsius.

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Comment Sorting
by: Paulapo from: Turkey
June 28, 2014 9:10 AM
ISIL is an illegal troop of US belive it or not. This is then fact!

by: Ali baba from: new york
June 27, 2014 8:42 PM
The real victim of Muslim extremist war and conflict are Christian minority in Muslim land. the fact that everybody ignored that Saddam Hussein and Bashar el Assad had protected the minority Christian. Once both of them are in trouble. these Christian are targeting of killing by bloody fanatic whom are able to build terror organization and get money and weapons and use it to kill Christian and rape woman . It is disgrace for superpower countries which failed by any standard to predict the real danger of Muslim extremist whom find a joy to kill and future Christian . it is shame that everyone carry in his shoulder .
In Response

by: Xaaji Dhagax from: Somalia
June 28, 2014 2:57 PM
Ali babaw, first you should know that there's no Muslim land!
The land of Iraq belongs to all Iraqis; be Muslims, Christians, Jews ,Kurdish or atheists.
Second, If you truly believe that Saddam Hussein was the protector of Iraqi Christian minority, then you should be blaming all Christian trouble to your former beloved president George W. Bush who orchestrated for no reason the destruction of Iraq, the murder of Saddam Hussein and the stealing of billions of dollars of Iraqi money.
Third if you are true American patriotic take Mr. Bush to court and accuse him all evil things he did in Iraq in the name of American people. Got it bro?

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