Hope for the victims of the Islamic State

Six years after militants calling themselves the Islamic State (IS) attacked Iraq’s Yazidi community and thousands of Christians in the Nineveh Plains, the victims are still waiting for justice, writes human rights lawyer Ewelina U. Ochab in Forbes magazine. 

On August 3, 2014, IS launched an attack on the Yazidis in Sinjar, northern Iraq, killing and kidnapping at random. To this day, thousands of women and girls are unaccounted for. The militants then swiftly moved on to the Nineveh Plains causing some 120,000 people to flee their homes overnight. No one knows how many people died; mass graves are still being discoveredOchab says: “For the families of those who disappeared, this is their harsh reality.” 

 

Ochab adds that while the atrocities have been recognised as crimes against humanity, only few of the perpetrators have been tried and sentenced. Meanwhile, the ideology is still alive and Islamic State has used the COVID-19 pandemic to strengthen its presence. 

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“While IS occupation has ended and a lot of the physical damage has been repaired, the struggle continues. IS has been defeated militarily, but the Islamic extremist ideology still lives among the people,” said a spokesman for Open Doors. “Christians still face a lot of pressure from the Muslim majority. As one church leader in Iraq stated it, they feel like their society is ‘vomiting them out. 

 

It is this pressure, combined with the economic crisis and the coronavirus pandemic, that makes daily life a struggle for many Christians. Over the years more than a million have left the country, many of them young people. Open Doors estimates that of the 1.5 million Christians who lived in Iraq in 2003, there are around 220,000 left; a decrease of 87% within one generation. Various reports by Open Doors and other organisations have warned the Christian community in Iraq might become extinct if there is no intervention. 

 

For this reason Open Doors started the Hope for the Middle East Campaign in 2016. The campaign seeks to strengthen the Church in the Middle East so that Christians can be a source of hope to their communities, their regions, and their countries. 

 

Since then, about 125 churches, nearly two-thirds of the churches in Iraq, have been converted into “Centres of Hope.” The centres provide a range of training courses and income generation projects. They include training in how to reach out to people in the community and help them to grow stronger in their faith, as well as programmes on leadership training, trauma awareness, advocacy and income-generation projects. 

 

“[These centres] provide what the Christians need right now: hope and new perspective,” the Open Doors spokesman said. “They need this to accomplish their dream of becoming a beacon of light in their societies. Without hope many more Christians will choose to leave the country.” 

 

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