17 November 2016

7,000 Iraqi Christian refugees to celebrate 'Return Festival' on Friday as Nineveh plains liberation continues

A festival of music and dance to encourage 7,000 displaced Iraqi Christians will be held on Friday (18 November) in Erbil, Iraq, entitled 'The Return Festival'.

The event has been organised by 100 young people from Erbil's Christian community, 200 displaced people and the owner of a local television company. Over a dozen Iraqi television channels have said they will cover the event, which will feature choirs and dances performed by displaced people.

Families who were displaced from the Nineveh plains are in need of encouragement after seeing photos and videos of the devastation caused by the self-proclaimed Islamic State (IS) in their home towns and villages. While they have celebrated the liberation of their towns, some have begun to lose hope that they will be able to return.

Sana, a young woman from Erbil working in the trauma counselling for displaced people, explains the purpose of the festival: "With this festival we try to tell our brothers and sisters: we are with you, we support you! We want to give them hope on this day, so that they take this hope with them in the coming time."

Her colleague, a young man named Rami, also from Erbil, says: "Their houses are destroyed after the liberation. We want to show organisations, the central government and governments around the world: You have to help them! When they go back they cannot go back to nothing! They need homes to live in and not just land."

"We are trying to raise our voice to the world," says Sana, "Christians here want to stay!" And Rami seconds that: "We will go and help them rebuild their cities! We want them to be as optimistic as we are!"

Iraq is number 2 on the Open Doors World Watch List a ranking of the countries where it is hardest to be a Christian.

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Open Doors UK & Ireland is part of Open Doors International, a global NGO network which has supported and strengthened persecuted Christians for 60 years. Last year supporters in the UK and Ireland raised over £11.7 million to provide practical support to persecuted Christians such as food, medicines, trauma care, legal assistance, safe houses and schools, as well as spiritual support through Christian literature, training and resources, in over 60 countries.

This year, Open Doors has launched the Hope for the Middle East campaign, a global, seven-year campaign mobilising Christians around the world to stand with the church in the Middle East. As part of this, Open Doors is asking people to sign the One Million Voices of Hope petition, which will be presented to the UN in June 2017. The petition calls for equality, dignity and responsibility for Christians and other minorities in Syria and Iraq, the key things Christians and church leaders from these nations have said they want for the future. Iraq is number 2 on the Open Doors World Watch List, which ranks the severity of persecution faced by Christians in 50 countries. Open Doors is working through local partners and churches in Iraq to provide crisis relief, trauma training, biblical training for church leaders, socio-economic development projects such as microloans for displaced people, and distributing Bibles and Christian literature.