Enabling Displaced Iraqi Christians to Return – A VERY IMPORTANT DOCUMENT

Some time ago I have initiated a research project on the situation of the refugees that were victims of the violent conflict in Iraq, with an emphasis on religious minorities, particularly Christians.

The study was realised by Midde East Concern and is now available for distribution.

Here is a summary of its findings and recommendations:

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Middle East Concern

Enabling Displaced Iraqi Christians to Return

Executive Summary

The actual number of displaced Iraqis is hard to quantify, but UNHCR figures show that more than 10% of Iraq’s population have been displaced abroad, and a similar percentage has been displaced within Iraq. Amongst this general displacement is a large proportion of Christians and other minorities, with UNHCR figures saying that 30% of those displaced abroad were from religious minorities.

In February 2011 an Iraqi Church leader stated that, “Our hope is that all who left will return once conditions – safety, stability, infrastructure – are in place.” (Patriarch Mar Addai II, Catholicos of the Ancient Church of the East during a visit to the World Council of Churches in Geneva)

This report looks at what can and should be done in those three areas to enable displaced Iraqi Christians to return. Creating the conditions in which Christians will return requires creating the conditions in which Iraqis from all backgrounds will be encouraged to return, plus specific incentives directed at the needs of religious minorities. There are precedents and current developments that make this an achievable goal.

First, it is imperative that a greater sense of safety and security be achieved. Enhanced acceptance of religious minorities would have a positive impact for all of Iraq’s diverse population and is essential for a prosperous, tolerant and healthy society given Iraq’s ethnic, linguistic and religious diversity.

Christian communities have been the target of criminal activity, notably kidnapping, and of extremist agendas. Amidst sectarian violence, religious extremists actively sought to impose their agendas in their areas of influence, including “purifying” the area. Many Christians are well educated professional people and were part of a wave of kidnapping. Christians are perceived to have more money, or access to money from those in the diaspora, making them more lucrative targets. Further, they are a minority, unlikely to respond violently, and have no large tribe to protect or avenge them.

The security situation has improved considerably, although significant challenges continue, as illustrated by a series of bomb attacks in Baghdad and elsewhere during December 2011 and early January 2012. There are several examples of Iraqis acting to stop sectarian violence, giving a precedent for Iraqis confronting extremists. One such is the Diyala Initiative which began in July 2009, combining security, reconciliation and socio-economic aspects. 139,000 people displaced from Diyala province during 2006 and 2007 had returned by the end of 2010.

The High Council of Religious Leaders in Iraq (HCRLI) brings together senior religious leaders from Sunni, Shi’a and Christian communities. The aim is to work together to find ways to promote religious tolerance. The initial effect of a joint statement (followed by Fatwas endorsing the content) condemning violence by religious groups against adherents of other faiths or other codes from within the same faith appeared to have led to a reduction in sectarian violence in general and in violence against Christians in particular.

Second, it is imperative that the general socio-economic situation be improved. Recommendations include the use of rising government revenues from increasing oil exports to facilitate a rapid expansion of electricity generation, fund improved public services and infrastructure projects, which provide employment and sustain a growing business environment. Changes in the education system are essential, notably ensuring greater levels of Arabic or Kurdish language competence among minority communities in order to increase employability in sectors other than menial labour or agricultural work.

Corruption and poor governance waste resources and impede progress. Therefore, the recommendations include the need to encourage greater accountability of political, business, community and religious leaders through greater press freedom and measures to strengthen the independence of the judiciary and the effectiveness of police and security services to enhance the equitable application of the rule of law to all citizens.

The 2009 Diyala Initiative which included security, reconciliation, and socio-economic programmes and, according to the UN, led to over 139,000 displaced people returning to the province. This is a practical demonstration of many of the recommendations described in this paper.

List of Recommendations

To the Iraqi government

  • Improve security, especially concerning kidnapping and violent attacks on members of religious minorities and their property
  • Take effective measures to improve the protection of journalists, including enacting legislation to create truly free press starting with the “Access to Information Law” and the “Journalists’ Protection Law”
  • Implement a major investment programme in public services, job creation and improving services
  • Expand electricity generation with a view to fully meeting local needs and supplying neighbouring areas
  • Ensure that all companies operating in Iraq use as much local labour as possible
  • Expand the provision of secondary education to be achievable and affordable for all children
  • Implement the national census to ensure the transparent allocation of national resources to all provinces
  • Encourage and enable other provinces to enact projects similar to the Diyala initiative
  • Include religious tolerance within the Ministry of Religious Affairs’ training programmes

To the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG)

In addition to the above:

  • Finalise agreement with the federal oil ministry on the development of facilities in the KRG region
  • Allocate funding for temporary safe housing for the internally displaced, including welfare services for basic material needs specifically food and water


To Iraqi religious leaders

  • Encourage political leaders with whom they have influence to enact stronger religious freedom and other human rights legislation
  • Continue the HCRLI processes, including affirming joint statements throughout their own communities
  • Promote and encourage religious tourism to sacred sites

To other governments, multi-national businesses and international NGOs

  • Encourage the Iraqi government to fulfil its Human Rights commitments under international law
  • Support Iraqi refugee communities, notably by education and vocational training, whilst constantlyencouraging them to consider returning
  • Actively promote and support business opportunities across Iraq, using as much Iraqi labour as possible, and provide training and apprenticeships for Iraqis
  • Press Iraqi authorities at local, provincial, regional and national levels to take effective measures to tackle corruption
  • Encourage and support reconciliation initiatives

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NOTE: May be circulated to general mailing lists, outside organizations, and quoted from freely in reports citing “Middle East Concern” as the source of the information.

You may download the entire report at the link below:

Enabling Displaced Iraqis to Return – Jan 2012


Author: DanutM

Anglican theologian. Former Director for Faith and Development Middle East and Eastern Europe Region of World Vision International

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