Christians proceed to go away Iraq whereas those that stay really feel "insecure".

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Destruction in Batnaya, Northern Iraq(Photo: Help for the Church in Need)

Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) warned that Christians are still coming out of Iraq at an alarming rate, and many are still concerned about the return of IS.

In a new report, "Life After IS: New Challenges for Christianity in Iraq", the Catholic charity warns that the threat to the Christian state for Christians has only shifted to Shiite militias that are supported by Iran.

According to the ACN, the number of Christians living in areas that were formerly under ISIS control has declined from 102,000 in 2014 by tens of thousands to just 36,000 today.

In fact, according to the report, more Christians have left Iraq than returned home last year.

"In the summer of 2019, the Christian population of this region reached a turning point at which more families left their hometown than returned. In Baghdeda alone, 3,000 Syrian Catholics left in 2019 within just three months – a decrease of 12% in the number of Syrian Catholics in the City, "it said.

Without "urgent" intervention from the international community, the number of Christians in Iraq could drop to 23,000, ACN warned.

In a poll among Iraqi Christians, ACN found that more than half (57%) had considered emigration. Over half of that number indicated that they would leave Iraq by 2024.

When asked what they were most concerned about, the majority of respondents expressed concerns about their family's safety. 87% said they either felt unsafe or absolutely unsafe.

However, many fear the return of IS. Over two-thirds (67%) believe it is "likely or very likely" that the militant group will return "in the next five years."

Father Andrzej Halemba, Chairman of the ACN Nineveh Reconstruction Committee, fears that the exodus of Christians from the region will only add to the burden on the remaining.

"Christians who have returned home still feel insecure and much more insecure than other groups in the region, mainly because of the violent activities of local militias," he said in a preface to the report.

"Although economic concerns, especially employment, are of paramount importance in some areas, it is impossible to decouple them from security considerations.

"These key factors need to be addressed to combat the physical and economic uncertainty that is forcing the population to move.

"If the tendency to emigrate is not stopped, this will in turn put even greater pressure on Christians remaining in Iraq by reducing their critical mass and creating a less hospitable environment."

ACN said the response to the challenges needs to be broadened.

"The results … make it clear that the restoration of the stability of the Christian community in this post-conflict region can only be achieved with concerted efforts that focus on security, education, long-term economic opportunities and reconstruction," it said.

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