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UNHCR aiding uprooted Iraqi Christians

Briefing notes

UNHCR aiding uprooted Iraqi Christians

24 October 2008

UNHCR is helping thousands of Iraqi Christians who have fled the northern city of Mosul over the past fortnight, most of them to villages elsewhere in Ninewa province but also about 400 who have crossed into Syria. It is still not clear who is behind the intimidation that caused them to flee.

More than 2,200 families, or some 13,000 people, are estimated to have left Mosul by mid-week, mostly to safe areas to the north and east of the city. That is more than half of Mosul's Christian population. They have also fled to the neighbouring governorates of Dahuk, Erbil and Kirkuk. Most have been taken in by other Christian families. The displacement now appears to be slowing, according to UNHCR staff in the region.

UNHCR Iraq and its partners have delivered aid to at least 1,725 of the displaced families in about 20 areas of northern Iraq.

In Syria, meanwhile, UNHCR Representative Laurens Jolles reports that many Christians from Mosul have been systematically targeted and no longer feel safe there. UNHCR will provide support for those Iraqis who seek refuge in neighbouring countries and we very much appreciate that Syria continues to welcome refugees. Syria already hosts at least 1.2 million Iraqis.

UNHCR Syria has fast-tracked the registration of Christian refugees from Mosul who have turned up at our offices in the cities of Damascus and Aleppo. In addition, a team of UNHCR field officers has travelled to the Qamishli area close to Iraq, where some of the Iraqis have been arriving. Following registration, families facing financial difficulties are assessed for emergency grants and food assistance.

Field officers have met 20 families from Mosul in the Qamishli area in the past few days, while more than 20 Iraqi Christian families have sought our help in Aleppo.

Those interviewed tell similar stories of sudden flight from Mosul. Many left with little money and need help extending their visas to Syria. All said they hoped to be able to return to their homes in the Iraqi city soon. One woman said she and her mother left Mosul early last week, two days after someone called one of her colleagues at work and said that all Christians should leave the city immediately or be killed. She said she was unnerved, but decided to leave only after hearing reports that 11 people had been killed at a checkpoint by militiamen dressed as police officers. She and her mother escaped with a couple of bags and all the money that they had in the house - they did not dare go to the bank to remove their savings.

A nurse who fled Mosul almost two weeks ago said the threats started months ago, with phone calls, letters and messages left on doors. She said she stayed in Mosul until October 10, when she received a new threat. She immediately left with her mother.