By Balint Szlanko
IRBIL, Iraq (AP) — As operations to retake the militant-held city of Mosul ramp up, Iraqi Christians displaced from the area by the Islamic State group say that even if the militants are defeated militarily, the country will not be safe for minorities.
Qaraqosh, the biggest Christian town on the Nineveh plains in Iraq’s north, fell to IS more than two years ago and remains under militant control. Most of its displaced inhabitants are living in camps in Iraq’s Kurdish region. Hundreds of others fled to neighboring countries, Europe, the United States and further afield.
On the edge of Irbil’s historically Christian neighborhood of Ankawa, 1,200 identical white trailers arranged in neat rows shelter some 5,000 people. A handful of families here say they will return home the day their town is liberated. But many say they would rather leave for abroad. Despite the string of military defeats suffered by IS, they say the militants’ incursion into Iraq has thrown the future of the country’s minority groups into further uncertainty.
After months of living in cramped quarters in a dusty camp for displaced civilians, Samaan and his family tried to leave the country through a United Nations resettlement program but without success.
Samaan says the more than two years of being stuck in limbo has dulled his sense of optimism.
“There is always hope,” he said of returning home, “but when? Nobody knows. It might be a year, two years, a day, a couple of days. Three or four years from now if we go home there won’t be anything left of our house.”
Christians once constituted a sizeable minority in Iraq but their numbers have dwindled since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion as many have emigrated to the West to escape violence.
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