A scholarship programme supported by the Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) is helping Iraq’s beleaguered Christian community stay in their homeland.
The Catholic University in Erbil (CUE), based in the capital of the Kurdistan region, is providing a scholarship scheme to help Christians and members of other vulnerable groups with support from ACN.
Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil, the founder of the university, said: “The CUE model encourages the whole family to stay and not to emigrate – their children will have an excellent education to obtain work and therefore a future in Iraq to support themselves and their parents.”
Basma Adwar, a Chaldean Catholic who was one of the first students to be given financial support to pursue her studies, told ACN: “Because I have a scholarship to study, I can stay in Iraq. I want to stay in Iraq. I want my future to be in Iraq, and I want to help build the future of Iraq.”
The 25-year-old’s family moved from the capital Baghdad, to Zakho in Iraqi Kurdistan in 2003, as Christians were increasingly targeted in the south of the country following the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime.
They were living in northern Iraq in 2013 when hundreds of thousands of Christians were forced to flee to Erbil from their homes in the Nineveh Plains.
Adwar was one of 128 students to be chosen to receive the first Pope Francis Scholarships in the academic year 2022-23.
The majority of the recipients were Christian, but a small number were given to vulnerable members of other religious and ethnic groups, including twelve Yazidis.
Over the next three years ACN has committed to providing at least 70 new scholarships.
Archbishop Bashar said: “I thank all the very hardworking ACN offices worldwide and all of their donors in supporting the young Christians of Iraq to have not only a right, but the actual opportunity, to obtain a higher education.