(AFP) — A radio station catering specifically to northern Iraq’s large displaced population began broadcasting on Sunday near the Kurdish capital Arbil.
“This radio station is for all those who were forced from their homes, for all the refugees,” Pascal Gollnisch said in Radio Al-Salam’s inaugural broadcast.
Gollnisch is a French Catholic priest whose organisation L’Oeuvre d’Orient helps Christians in the Middle East and backed the new station.
He is part of a delegation of several French groups supporting the broadcaster, which will put out several hours of programming daily on 95.5 FM.
“As its name suggests, it is a radio station for peace, that also gives practical help in the daily lives of all the displaced,” Gollnisch said.
Some 2.5 million people have been displaced by conflict in Iraq since the beginning of 2014. Around half are hosted by the northern autonomous region of Kurdistan, which has also received Syrian refugees.
Kurdish and federal Iraqi forces, backed by a US-led international coalition and Iran, are waging a war to retake swathes of land lost last year to the Islamic State group (IS).
However, it could be months or years before all of the displaced are able to return to their homes.
The station aims “to send out a message of peace, a message of coexistence to the communities,” Falah Mustafa, the head of Kurdistan’s foreign relations department, told reporters.
The Nineveh plain between the main IS hub of Mosul and Arbil was home to a very ethnically and religiously diverse population, most of which fled to Kurdistan last summer.
The displaced who found shelter there include people from the Christian, Yazidi, Kaka’i, Shabak, Turkmen and other minorities.
Radio Al-Salam is hosted by another media group in Ainkawa, a Christian town on the edge of Arbil where many of the Christians displaced last summer live in camps.
“We want to build a bridge between the displaced from different communities and different religions, and the Kurdish community hosting them,” said Vincent Gelo, the station’s young resident coordinator.
The new stationed tailored to the needs of the displaced evolved from an initial plan to relaunch a Christian station formerly based in Qaraqosh, Iraq’s largest Christian town, which is now occupied by IS jihadists.