IRAQ: Christians trickling back to their homes in Mosul
UNHCR estimated that some 13,000 Iraqi Christians had fled their homes in October
BAGHDAD, 6 November 2008 (IRIN) - About 400 Christian families, (some 2,400 individuals) have returned to their homes in the northern city of Mosul after a spate of threats and killings led them to flee in early October, according to officials.
"We have so far registered nearly 400 Christian families who have returned to their houses and jobs, and resumed normal lives thanks to the deployment of security forces," said Jawdat Ismaiel, head of the Ministry of Displacement and Migration in the province.
"Christians are no longer fleeing the city. Instead, more are coming back, especially when they hear that those who have returned are no longer being threatened and have resumed their daily life," Ismaiel said.
Jamil Zaitoni, head of the Assyrian and Chaldean Council, an NGO in Mosul, hailed Iraqi government efforts to ensure security.
"Thank God, Christian families have begun returning to their homes… We expect them all to return over the next few days," Zaitono said, adding that no threats or violence had been registered against any of the returnees thus far. Government help
The Iraqi government on 30 October said it would offer each returnee Christian family one million Iraqi dinars (about US$865), and 300,000 (about $250) to those still displaced, according to Ismaiel.
He also said the government had granted Christian government workers and students leave of absence from work and classes until 1 November.
By 3 November, he said, 115 displaced Christian families had received a one-off payment of 300,000 dinars; his teams hoped to reach about 200 other families on 4 November. The one-million-dinar payments were expected to be made soon.
In a speech at a conference in Baghdad on Islamic-Christian dialogue on 3 November, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki pledged to protect Iraq's Christian minority.
"We all feel ashamed that such disgusting events take place in Iraq where one man kills another for reasons of identity or religion and ethnic background," al-Maliki said.
"We will make all efforts to keep our Christian brothers honoured and respected in Iraq, for they are an essential component of its society," he added.
Anti-Christian violence in Mosul, the provincial capital of Ninevah, some 400km north of Baghdad, erupted on 4 October when gunmen started targeting Christians and threatening others, forcing them to leave the city.
The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) estimated that more than 2,200 families, or some 13,000 people, fled their homes.
It said this represented about half the province's Christian population. Some 400 families had crossed the border into Syria, while others had gone to safe areas to the north and east of Mosul and to neighbouring Dahuk, Arbil and Kirkuk provinces.
No group has claimed responsibility for the attacks, but Sunni extremists are believed to be behind them.