The U.N. refugee agency says about one third of the Christian families that fled the Iraqi city of Mosul in early October have returned to their homes. About 10,000 people or half of Mosul's Christian population fled the city for fear of violence. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from UNHCR headquarters in Geneva.
A majority of the Christians who fled went to the al Hamdaniya area, which is about 40 or 50 kilometers from Mosul. The U.N. refugee agency says they have been staying with family and friends or in churches and public buildings.
UNHCR Spokesman Ron Redmond says displaced families began returning to Mosul a little more than a week ago. He tells VOA many of the Christians received assurances from their Arab neighbors that security in the city had improved, with increased presence by Iraqi security forces.
"Currently, there are some 35,000 army and police in Mosul city alone," Redmond said. "The number of explosions and arbitrary killings has declined in recent weeks. So that obviously contributes to the sense of growing security that people do feel now."
Thousands of Christians fled Mosul after nearly one dozen people reportedly were killed. Many Christians said they had received threatening notes pinned to their doors. Others said their Arab neighbors warned them of plots against them.
Redmond says it still is not clear who is behind these intimidating tactics.
Just this week, two Christian sisters were shot and killed by Iraqi gunmen while rigging their house with explosives. Police have identified them as Islamic extremists.
Redmond says many of the displaced say they are still too frightened to return. And, he says people who are returning are doing so for a variety of reasons.
"Not everyone is moving back and staying. Some are going into the city to go to work," Redmond said. "They go in there to go to university, to go to school and then return to outlying areas at night. But, others have moved back into their homes and are staying in the city. And, we hope, that indeed it stabilizes and they can stay there."
Redmond says the government is giving each Christian family that returns a cash grant of up to $800. He notes many families do not register for the money because they fear exposure or are uncertain as to whether they will stay.