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For Some Iraqi Christians, Returning to Homeland Is Not an Option

“There has been no concrete movement from the church, the international community or government authorities to anchor them there,” he said. “Despite pessimism, I still have my faith, and I still believe Christianity must remain in Iraq.”

The future is unclear for Nouree and his family, but his priority is to get resettled in another country.

In Beirut, he registered his family with the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees and was issued an asylum-seeker certificate. His next appointment is scheduled for March 2015.

At that first visit to the UNHCR, Nouree got an indication of the frustration and despair faced by other refugees.

“I saw a young man, depressed and screaming, because he’s been here so long,” he said.

Even before this summer’s mass exodus of Iraqi Christians, there were about 9,000 Iraqi refugees in Lebanon, most of whom fled their homeland after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion. Lebanon has also experienced a flood of more than 1.5 million Syrian refugees, equal to at least one-quarter of Lebanon’s resident population.

“I’m open to do any kind of work to support my family,” Nouree said. But the 45-year-old biology teacher has not found any work in Lebanon, and competition is fierce among other refugees, many of whom typically work as laborers for $20 a day.

“My children are my hope — to go to school and be educated and to live in a democratic environment,” Nouree said.

His 17-year-old daughter, Mariam, a top student, dreamed of becoming a doctor and was to enter her last year of high school in Iraq.

Now Mariam and her two teenage siblings are working full time to support their family, each earning about $350 a month. She and her 14-year-old sister work at a confectionary business, and her 19-year-old brother works in a bakery. Those salaries cover the $700 monthly rent for their modest apartment in a run-down area of Beirut and the $200 electricity bill, but there’s not much left over for food and other necessities. Nouree’s elderly mother, who has Alzheimer’s, is also living with them.

A 5 September report by Fides, news agency of the Vatican Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, quoted Father Paul Karam, head of Caritas Lebanon, as saying that around 350 families of Christians who fled Mosul and the villages in the plain of Ninevah have found shelter in Lebanon, “but the numbers continue to rise every day.”

“We at Caritas Lebanon provide health care, food and prime necessities,” Father Karam said. “However we are saddened by the fact that almost all of them [Iraqi refugees] have no intention of returning to their country: Their desire is to emigrate, to leave the Middle East for ever. Sad to say this is the situation. And also on this issue the international community is called to make sensible decisions, unless it wants to contribute with its policies, to the extinction of Christians in Iraq,” Father Karam said.

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Tags: Iraq Iraqi Christians War Iraqi Refugees