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“It

 was not just Daesh [Islamic State, IS] who destroyed our homes, it was also our neighbours, the ones we considered our friends … How can we possibly live somewhere we don’t feel welcome or safe?” said an 80-year-old Christian, living in a Christian displaced people’s camp in Erbil, northern Iraq (Kurdistan).

The conquest of Mosul and the Plains of Nineveh (the historic centre of Iraqi Christianity) by IS in 2014 caused huge numbers to flee. Christians who remain face an uncertain future, in a country led by a fragmented Shia government, not supported by many minority Sunnis.

Iraqi refugee family who were forced to flee from their homes

Even though Mosul and the surrounding towns were “liberated” from Islamic State (IS), many Christians remained wary of returning because of the threat of further persecution. A Muslim resident of Mosul said, “If I was a Christian, I wouldn’t go back.” His home was occupied by victorious Iraqi security forces and he recalled, “neighbours told us to take the house of a Christian who lived four doors down.” Christians’ homes have been occupied, destroyed and in some cases fraudulently sold, as has happened to Christian properties in Baghdad – many families who fled to other countries or became displaced within Iraq had nowhere to return to. Even government officials have admitted that the brief IS occupation has created an ongoing “culture of hate” amongst Muslims towards Christians.

It is estimated that around 75% of Iraq’s Christian population (around 1.5 million believers in 1990) have left the country due to anti-Christian hostility and violence which began after the 1990-91 Gulf War and intensified after the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime in 2003. Such violence included murders, kidnappings and attacks on church buildings and Christian-owned businesses.