Iraqi Christians: Better off than other Iraqi refugees?
Arab Christians in the US and elsewhere help facilitate the resettlement of Iraqi Christians fleeing violence in Iraq. Is the Western media overplaying the challenges facing Christians in Iraq?
On Wednesday night, Americans tuning into Cornerstone TeleVision, a Christian network, will hear what has become a familiar narrative to Christian communities over the last seven years: the hardship story of their fellow Iraqi believers.
“Undercover with Persecuted Christians,” which promises to take “viewers to places where believers suffer most for their faith,” opens with an episode about Iraqi Christians.
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Of all the minority groups affected by fighting in Iraq, Christians may be the one group Americans and the West have heard the most about. In part, that’s because Iraqi Christians have suffered a disproportionate amount of violence throughout the war.
But what’s often not reported is that Iraqi Christians refugees tend to receive more support than most other Iraqis. In large part due to a well-connected and affluent Arab Christian community abroad, more so than any other group in Iraq, Iraq Christians have had the least trouble resettling overseas.
And despite persistent violence in Iraq, there are also signs that peaceful cohabitation between Christians and other ethnic groups is occurring in many places in the country.
Still, their numbers in Iraq have been deplete so much – to almost half of the population before the war – many Iraqi Christians worry that those who continue to take advantage of resettlement options abroad could bring about the end to one of the oldest Christian communities in the world.
Since the war began, targeted attacks have forced nearly two-thirds of Iraqi Christians from their homes and though they only made up 5 percent of the Iraqi population before the war, they now make up 20 percent of Iraq’s refugees. Additionally, of the up to 1.4 million Christians in the country in 2003, as few as 500,000 remain.
The flow of newly displaced refugees both in and outside of Iraq has slowed to a trickle as violence remains at all time lows, but a brief new wave of displaced Christians made headlines in February as they fled targeted attacks in Mosul. Many Western media outlets latched onto the story as another example of Christian suffering in the Middle East.
For most it was a temporary exodus. A little more than a month after an estimated 1,121 Christian families (about 6,726 people) were displaced, all but 233 families have returned to their homes, according to a new report by the International Organization on Migration.
In fact, a UNHCR report last November found that while the number of newly registered Sunnis and Shiites refugees have been steadily increasing, the number of Christians have decreased by 21.3 percent compared to the end of 2008.