Archbishop of Erbil: Iraqi Christian refugees are losing hope of returning home

Displaced Iraqi children from the minority Yazidi sect gather for the first day of the new school term at Sharya refugee camp, on the outskirts of Duhok province, Iraq.Reuters

Thousands of Iraqi Christians are still fleeing their country even though the humanitarian situation for the displaced has improved, Chaldean Catholic Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil has told Aid to the Church in Need.

Growing numbers of Iraqi Christians forced out of their homes by ISIS are leaving the country as hopes fade that they will be able to return home, he said.

The Archbishop of Erbil, Most Rev Bashar Warda, addressed the Church of England's General Synod.

"Last year we had 13,500 registered Christian refugee families in our archdiocese. Now there are only about 10,000 left. This means that more than 3,000 families have left Iraq."

During the summer of 2014 more than 125,000 Christians arrived in the Kurdish region of Iraq after Islamist extremists seized Mosul and the Ninevah Plains.

Over a year later, many of these refugees are losing hope in their ability to return home and are choosing to leave the camps, despite improved conditions.

"The humanitarian situation has in the meantime been stabilised. No one has to live in tents anymore, as they did last year. The majority is now living in caravans or flats that we have rented," Archbishop Warda said.

"There are practically no children who are not receiving lessons" as eight new schools have been built in the area, funded by ACN, he added.

Archbishop Warda also described a Festval of Faith recently held by the Christian community, in which 1,200 people took part.

He said: "Many young people spoke of the darkness they had been forced to pass through. After all, when they fled, they not only lost their homes, but also their hopes, joy, trust and dreams.

"However, when they saw that the Church was with them, that priests and nuns stood by them, they took courage once more. Their faith returned. They may no longer have a house, but at least they have a living faith."

Despite the solidarity shown by such events, the Archbishop said the number of Christians in Iraq will decline even further if the situation does not change and the international community withdraws its support.