Great Britain

Can the papal visit stem the tide of Christians leaving Iraq?


met Father Jalal Yako, a Syriac Catholic priest, soon after he had been forced to flee for his life, along with 50,000 Iraqi Christians, from Isis fighters who had captured Mosul and much of northern Iraq in 2014. He sounded like a man filled with despair and with good reason. We were speaking in the Kurdish capital Erbil in front of a half-built mall, inside whose raw concrete interior 1,650 Christian refugees were trying to survive in the semi-darkness without electricity or water.

The refugees were all from the Syriac Catholic town of Qaraqosh on the Nineveh Plain outside Mosul where, until a few weeks earlier, they had lived a near normal life with their own houses, shops, churches, farms, tractors and cars. In the space of a few hours, they had lost everything to Isis and had barely escaped with their lives. About 150 of them, delayed by sick relatives or simply unlucky, were still in Qaraqosh where Isis gave them a choice between death and conversion to Islam. Muslims getting married in Mosul were invited by Isis to go to Qaraqosh to take their pick of furniture abandoned in Christian-owned houses.

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