Figures Show Rising Number of Displaced Iraqi Christians

A growing number of displaced Iraqi Christians are seeking refuge in the country's north as insecurity drives families from their homes, according to the International Organization for Migration.

The recent report revealed an estimated 1,078 Christian families have fled to Kurdistan, the autonomous region governed by the Kurdistan Regional Government, within the past three months. Out of that total, 747 have occurred just since Dec. 15. Another 276 families were displaced to the nearby northwest province of Ninewah during this period, while many more who remain have also indicated plans to move.

Though the report assessed the situation of internally displaced Christians in the predominately Muslim country, it also highlighted that many have sought refuge in nearby countries, particularly in Turkey.

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"Our monitors do report though that they are hearing of many emigrations abroad, and many more who hope to emigrate in the future," IOM Displacement Monitoring Officer Keegan de Lancie told Agence France-Presse. "Colleagues in Turkey have reported a spike in Christian families seeking refuge there."

De Lancie also noted that Christian Iraqi families generally consisted of four to five members.

The movement of Christians to the north continues to escalate in spite of efforts by Iraqi security forces to enforce heightened protective measures for the minority group whose population has rapidly declined since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003. Before 2003 there were approximately 1.4 million Christians. Today, there are an estimated 400,000 that remain.

The deadly Oct. 31 attack at Our Lady of Salvation Church in Baghdad sparked the recent exodus of Christians. During that massacre, 15 Al Qaida-linked militants attacked the Sunday service mass, leaving 44 worshippers and three priests dead.

The large influx of Christians into the north has led to soaring accommodation prices, with rental prices in the small town of Ainkawa just north of Kurdistan's capital Arbil, rising by 200-300% since November.

Iraqi Kurdistan is known as a safe haven in the otherwise dangerous country, having remained relatively calm since 1991 during which the region became a semi-autonomous enclave under the protection of the West.

The IOM has partnered with different organizations including UNICEF, to provide non-food items such as mattresses, stoves and hygiene kits to nearly 600 displaced Christian families trying to settle in the northern governorates of Erbil, Dahuk, Sulaymaniyah and Ninewa.

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