A new report now estimates that roughly half of the Christian populations of Iraq and Syria have emigrated since the Syrian civil war began in 2011.
The report was produced by the international Christian charities Open Doors, Served, and Middle East Concern.
The charities found that the Christian population in Iraq has gone from “well over 300,000” Christians in 2014 to 200,000-250,000 today with “many” displaced internally. The Christian population of Syria is estimated by charities to have been “roughly halved” from 2 million in 2011.
They cite primary factors for leaving as “the violence of conflict, including the almost complete destruction of some historically Christian towns in the Nineveh plains of northern Iraq, the emigration of others and loss of community, the rate of inflation and loss of employment opportunities, and the lack of educational opportunities.”
The report calls the violence of ISIS in Iraq and Syria “the tipping point for displacement,” although “the ultimate decision to leave the countries was portrayed as an accumulation of factors over time.”
They add that “for those settled in their destination countries, there was little incentive to return with several interviewees saying that the Middle East is no longer a home for Christians.”
The charities compiled the report with “findings from a literature review” and gathered “information from key informants: non-governmental organisation staff members; academics focused on refugee policy and practice; and religious leaders working with Syrian and Iraqi refugees.”
They noted that “it is difficult to find up-to-date statistics in the fast-moving environment of displacement from Syria and Iraq, or assess the reliability of the data in this politically charged environment. Even before the conflict in Syria and the presence of ISIS, there was no definitive census data to provide reliable breakdowns based on religion. These barriers impede data col- lection on Christians leaving Iraq and Syria and their journeys across the Middle East and Europe.”
The groups also released a policy paper alongside their findings, calling for the European Union to establish an “accountability mechanism” to address the persecution of Christians in Iraq and Syria.
They argue that “creating a national accountability mechanism for grievances is a long-term solution which aims to restore faith in a system that ensures all religious and ethnic communities are affirmed as equal citizens and deserving of protection, while also deterring negative actors from taking adverse actions against these communities.”