After years of strife, by 2014 it was reported that 90% of the Orthodox Christians of Iraq had been displaced. Most of them are still refugees and have been unable to return home. Still others who remained are leaving now.

For previous coverage of the persecution of Christians in Iraq, click here.

“Christian exodus from Iraq ‘alarming,’” by Susan Korah, Catholic Register, February 1, 2024:

A multitude of problems — corruption, discrimination and unemployment at home, exacerbated by the fallout from the Gaza war — are driving an alarming number of Iraqi Christians from their homeland, seeking emigration as a last resort, say Church leaders and advocacy organizations.

At least two prominent Church leaders have raised red flags, appealing to the international community to help their people.

“People in Iraq are really afraid that the violence will spread beyond Gaza,” said Archbishop Bashar Warda, Chaldean Archbishop of Erbil, in a recent interview with Aid to the Church in Need, the pontifical charity that helps persecuted Christians around the world.

“Speaking on behalf of all the people — especially the minorities, who tend to suffer more than others, especially in conflict situations — please God, no more war,” he pleaded.

Describing this renewed impetus towards emigration as “alarming,” Warda told The Catholic Register the threat of the Christian community’s disappearance from its ancient homeland is looming larger than ever.

“We do not want to disappear, but we will, without a strong, determined and ceaseless voice from the international community,” he said.

Fewer than 150,000 Christians remain in Iraq, down from the 1.5 million prior to 2003. Approximately 67 per cent are Chaldean Catholics (an eastern rite of the Roman Catholic Church), and nearly 20 per cent are members of the Assyrian Church of the East. The remainder are Syriac Orthodox, Syriac Catholic, Armenian Catholic, Armenian Apostolic, Anglican and other Protestants and evangelicals.

Unemployment is a major factor in the desire to emigrate, with people still struggling to make ends meet after the destruction of livelihoods by ISIS, Warda explained. Seven years after the military defeat of ISIS, the struggle to make a living goes on.

“Since the right to return was granted in 2017, there have been no livelihood programs for minorities in their own country,” he said. “How can one have dignity without work?”…

The archbishop’s concerns were echoed in a recent statement by Cardinal Louis Sako, whose official position as the patriarch of the Chaldean Church in Iraq was revoked by the Iraqi government in July 2023. Since then, he has left Baghdad, the capital city, and lives in the semi-autonomous Kurdistan region in the north of the country.

“More than a million Christians have emigrated. Most of them were with qualified scientific, economic and skilled backgrounds, but who cares?” he asked in the statement dated Jan. 10….

“Attacks on Christians are still continuing — on their skills, their jobs, the seizure of their properties, we have documented examples,” he wrote. “Cases of forced conversion by ISIS or others, the Islamization of minors, failure to preserve their rights, an attempt to deliberately erase their heritage, history, religious legacy, expressions of hatred in some religious discourses as well as in education books.”

A recent tragedy, a fire that broke out last September during a Christian wedding reception, killing more than 100 in the northern town of Qaraqosh, was another major setback for the community.

A Human Rights Watch researcher reported that government investigations found local authorities were negligent in their failure to enforce safety regulations. Contractors had used cheap, highly flammable construction materials. The report further noted that corruption allowed violators of building codes to act with impunity, reinforcing the Christian community’s suspicions….

Warda said the disappearance of the Christian presence in Iraq would be an irreparable loss to the country.

“Of course, we don’t want our people to leave, and they don’t want to leave either, but feel they must, out of necessity,” he said. “We carry the name of Christ and His light in this country. It is our duty to uphold the flame of faith and bestow blessings through our presence. If we were to migrate entirely who would proclaim His name to the people?”