ISIS may be gone, but Mosul still faces a long winter ahead

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Christians, Muslims and other victims of ISIS feel relief over the terrorist group being pushed back from the Nineveh Plain area of Northern Iraq, but challenges remain for the region as winter sets in.

While he feels "great joy" that ISIS has been driven out, local Christians feel it's "unclear" who to turn to for safety, Archbishop Yohanna Petros Mochaz told international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need.  

The Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, also known as ISIS, is an extremist terrorist organization. In the summer of 2014, ISIS made inroads into the Nineveh Plain region of Iraq – a home of Christianity since the 1st Century A.D. – but over the course of 2016, areas in the region have been retaken from the organization's control by cooperation of various local and international actors.

In the two years of ISIS control, over 3.3 million Iraqis were internally displaced. While under ISIS control Christians and other refugees were subject to persecution, severe restrictions on religious belief, violence and death.

The archbishop explained that while these areas in Iraq have been retaken, civic trust has deteriorated, making moving back more difficult.  

"We are afraid that we will have to continue to live with these people," Archbishop Yohanna Petros Mochaz said. "We impatiently awaited liberation, and many wanted to return immediately, but there first need to be guarantees for our safety."

Housing is also an issue, both for Christians trying to return home – only to find their homes burned – as well as for Muslim refugees from ISIS in the area. According to an interview in Foreign Policy with Bruno Geddo, head of the the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees in Iraq, coming cold weather and housing shortages, along with ongoing fighting, may prompt a housing crisis in the coming months.

Geddo told Foreign Policy that the organization is preparing for a possible mass migration of up to 700,000 refugees – mostly Sunni Muslims – due to harsh winter conditions in Mosul and surrounding areas as well as a lack of housing for all of the refugees.  

The issue of housing during the winter for refugees has been a primary concern of Catholic bishops in the region since the beginning of the Iraqi refugee crisis in 2014. Many refugee camps are not weather proof, some with only minimal protection from the elements.

Geddo also shared his concern that the tensions and continued fighting against ISIS may lead to increased sectarian violence, though he also mentioned that both international and Iraqi forces are taking precautions to reduce that threat.

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