Iraqi Christians complain about land-grabbing by Kurds –USCIRF report

Iraqi Christians who have fled to Kurdistan to escape the atrocities of the Islamic State in their hometowns have complained that ethnic Kurds are seizing and building on their lands, according to a new report from the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom.

(REUTERS / Ahmed Jadallah)Iraqi refugees, who fled from the violence in Mosul, walk during sunset inside the Khazer refugee camp on the outskirts of Arbil, in Iraq's Kurdistan region, June 27, 2014.

In the report titled "Wilting in the Kurdish Sun: The Hopes and Fears of Religious Minorities in Northern Iraq" that was published last month, the USCIRF warned of discrimination and violence targeting the displaced minorities who have fled to the Kurdish Region of Iraq. Many of the religious groups who sought refuge in the area say they still feel like second-class citizens despite their escape from the ISIS militants, The Christian Post relays.

According to the USCIRF report, Kurdish authorities have been accused of trying to "Kurdify" disputed territories possibly in a bid to retain those areas. There are also some minorities who are targeted or blocked from receiving aid if they do not support local Kurdish properties.

Christians have also "faced land appropriations by Kurdish landowners," the report added. They have already protested over the attacks they experience and the seizure of their properties in Dohuk and Erbil, saying officials are grabbing their lands for financial or personal gain.

Officials have denied the accusations, but activists and NGOs have presented evidence that the authorities have destroyed properties there and blocked the internally displaced people from returning to their homes. Again, this trend is seen as part of a long-term plan to retain control over the contested areas.

Meanwhile, a worker for the Chaldean Catholic Archdiocese of Erbil in Iraq told the Catholic News Service in a phone interview that Christian communities in the Middle East face extinction if they do not receive help and support. Stephen Rasche urged the U.S. to pass a bill authorizing funding for entities providing aid to Christian refugees as soon as possible, The Catholic Herald reported.

As of now, the Archdiocese of Erbil and other support groups are providing the needs of Christian refugees. Without this support, they will have to decide between staying or leaving the country, and Archbishop Bashar Warda said the lack of resources for the displaced believers will mean a "potential death sentence" for the Christian communities in the region.

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