Iraqi Christians face uncertain future after eviction from ‘Virgin Mary compound’ in Baghdad

Iraqi woman with rosary Credit Elise Harris CNA 1 An Iraqi woman holding a rosary. | Elise Harris/CNA.

The Chaldean Patriarch Cardinal Louis Raphael Sako and Auxiliary Bishop Basilio Yaldo of Baghdad, Iraq, recently visited a Baghdad compound from which a number of Christian families are facing eviction.

Sako and Yaldo are seeking to find quick alternatives to shelter the large numbers of Christians who are now facing the threat of homelessness this winter, reported ACI MENA, CNA’s partner agency for the Middle East and Northern Africa.

Sako told the agency he reached out to government officials in order to postpone the decision or find suitable places to house the residents who will be without a roof over their heads otherwise.

Chaldean Patriarch Louis Raphael Sako (left) and Bishop Basilio Yaldo visit the "Virgin Mary compound" in Baghdad, Iraq, Oct. 5, 2022. via ACI MENA
Chaldean Patriarch Louis Raphael Sako (left) and Bishop Basilio Yaldo visit the "Virgin Mary compound" in Baghdad, Iraq, Oct. 5, 2022. via ACI MENA

Following his visit, Sako issued a statement appealing to the responsible authorities in the government to extend the time limit on the eviction.

He also asked for help from the government in finding a place to house such a large number of people.

Sako wrote: “We ask distinguished officials to look into this urgent humanitarian issue and extend a helping hand to these families, for whom it is impossible to find alternative housing so quickly. The Church has helped these families as much as it could. These are Iraqi families, and this is a humanitarian situation.”

The Baghdad complex, named after the Virgin Mary, is built on state-owned property, which will be evacuated by the end of this year according to an order from government agencies.

Over the past several years, the complex has hosted 120 families, or approximately 400 individuals, including displaced Christians and poor families, after their areas were destroyed during the period of ISIS control.

This is not the first instance of an evacuation order given to the Virgin Mary complex in Baghdad.

In 2020, Baghdad Operations Command issued an order to displace the residents of the complex.

Hundreds of Christians demanded that the Ministry of Migration and Displacement reverse its decision that would have closed the complex and scattered dozens of already displaced families into the surrounding area.

Suhaila Abdel Karim, one of the displaced women who live in the complex, said: “We left the Nineveh Plain to the Qaraqosh area, then went to Dohuk Governorate, and then we came to Baghdad in 2014. Now we face an unknown fate.”

Mary Osama, one of the students residing in the complex, said: “I left the Hamdaniyah district and went to Baghdad. After the opening of the Virgin Mary complex for the displaced, we moved to here because of the services provided, especially since schools are close to the complex.”

Bishop Yaldo said in a statement to ACI MENA that the Church is currently working on preparing centers in several churches around Baghdad to house the Christians who live in this complex.

“The Church is doing its best to stop the deportation of the families who were displaced from several areas in the Nineveh Plain. The complex also contains non-displaced Christian families who do not have the financial means to rent houses to live in.”

According to Yaldo, the Christians who live in the complex belong to all Churches, including Chaldeans, Syriac Catholics, Syriac Orthodox, Assyrians, and others.

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