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Urgent Assistance Needed for Iraq’s Displaced Christians

21 Nov 2008 New York — CNEWA has launched an emergency appeal to aid Iraqi Christian families displaced by violence and war. In a detailed report released today by the head of CNEWA’s regional office for Jordan and Iraq, Mr. Ra’ed Bahou, an estimated $1.1 million is needed to cover the cost of food and other basics for 1,770 families (about 7,000 people) recently expelled from their homes in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul. Mr. Bahou estimates an average of $150 a month is needed to sustain each family, or about five persons. Emergency aid, he added, will be needed for at least three months.

The report is based on a fact-finding mission sponsored by CNEWA and undertaken by two Franciscan Sisters of Mary who work with Iraqi refugees in the Jordanian capital of Amman. The Franciscans, who are trained social workers, visited eight Christian villages and communities in the Nineveh region from 29-31 October after a recent surge in violence in Mosul claimed the lives of 12 Christians and forced an estimated 13,000 Christians to flee the city and to take refuge in nearby villages.

The sisters met with displaced families as well as church and other community leaders to assess exact numbers and needs. Some families, they reported, spent their first nights in tents until parish priests mobilized residents to welcome as many as they could accommodate or afford in their homes. Many families currently live in public facilities, such as clubs, schools, church halls and catechist centers. Local charities have provided families some assistance, e.g. blankets, mattresses, kitchen supplies and some food, but cannot keep up with the demand.

In northern Iraq, CNEWA and the Franciscan Sisters have established a committee of six trusted leaders from the various Christian villages to help oversee relief efforts. As an immediate response, the committee has also begun distributing food coupons to needy families. The coupons have specific monetary values and can be exchanged for food and other household supplies at participating stores. To ensure they reach the designated families, each coupon is marked with the recipient’s identification information.

Commenting on the mission, Sister Wardeh Kayrouz said, “The situation is shocking, even more tragic than we imagined ... a real tragedy. It is uncertain whether the situation will worsen or be resolved. But let us be optimistic.”

To make an immediate gift, visit www.helpiraqschristians.org or send your check by mail to CNEWA, 1011 First Avenue, New York, NY, 10022-4195, or call toll free at 1-800-442-6392.

Founded in 1926 by Pope Pius XI, CNEWA is a special agency of the Holy See providing support to the church and peoples of the Middle East, Northeast Africa, India and Eastern Europe. Programs in the Middle East include emergency relief, including help to displaced Lebanese, Iraqi and Palestinian families, long-term community redevelopment projects, job creation programs and pre- and post-natal medical care.