ERBIL, Kurdistan Region (Kurdistan24) – Iraqi forces liberated the Christian town of Tel Keyf over three months ago, but the area remains largely empty as residents faced with serious obstacles refuse to return home.
Located in the Ninevah Plains, Tel Keyf is only eight kilometers northeast of Mosul. The Islamic State (IS) occupied the town in June 2014 after it emerged in northern Iraq.
After the launch of the military operation to liberate Nineveh Province and Mosul in particular from the extremist group on Oct. 17, 2017, Iraqi forces freed Tel Keyf on Jan. 19, 2017.
“There are many factors that why people are not returning to Tel Keyf,” the Mayor of Tel Keyf Bassam Balo told Kurdistan24. “There are many Hashd al-Shabi forces, also known as the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), in the town and each follows orders from different commanders.”
Balo also mentioned that 70 percent of the city was destroyed in clashes between Iraqi forces and IS at the beginning of the offensive.
“The lack of essential services is another reason preventing displaced people from returning home,” the Mayor added.
A displaced person from Tel Keyf in the town of Alqosh explained to Kurdistan24 that the security situation in Tel Keyf is unstable and that services are scarce.
“We won’t return to Tel Keyf unless Peshmerga forces offer us protection there,” Khalid Jassim a Tel Keyf resident in Alqosh told Kurdistan24.
Sami Aziz, another resident, emphasized the lack of services in Tel Keyf. He also mentioned that people would return to the town only if Peshmerga forces would be present to protect them as people do not trust militias in the area.
After IS attacked Mosul and northern Iraq, hundreds of thousands of people fled to Kurdistan Region. There are now about two million refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Kurdistan.
According to Khalid Jamal Albert, General Director of Christian Affairs in the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG)'s Ministry of Endowments and Religious Affairs, Kurdistan is home to almost 320,000 Christians.
Editing by G.H. Renaud