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Thousands of Iraqis have fled their homes to escape violence. Extremists calling themselves the Islamic State have seized large swathes of territory in the north since they seized Mosul in June.

Qaraqosh, with a large Christian popoulation, has fallen to the extremists, prompting a mass exodus of people.

“It’s a catastrophe, a tragic situation: tens of thousands of terrified people are being displaced as we speak,”said the Chaldean Archbishop Joseph Thomas of Kirkuk.

People are fleeing to places which have little or no resources to cope with the influx. People are living in parks, churches, mosques and with locals.

Caritas Iraq continues to provide aid to families in need, including food, health, trauma counselling and other supplies. Caritas has reached 3200 families so far, but the conflict is escalating.

In just the last few days, tens of thousands of the Yazidi ethnic minority have fled clashes between Kurds and the Sunni extremists.

A long persecuted group, they have gone towards the barren mountains. There is an immediate need for water, food, fuel, shelter and health services.

The Yazidi have reason to flee. The Islamic State has already targeted other minorities such as Shia Muslims and Christians, driving them out of Mosul and other areas.

Caritas Iraq says people are uncertain about the future and have no plans to return home.

Yousif, his wife Shmouni and their two daughters are a Christian family who fled Mosul after the Mosque’s loudspeakers told Christians to leave within 12 hours or be killed, convert to Islam or pay the Jizya (tax on non-Muslims).

What possessions they managed to flee with were looted on the way to Bartilla. They cannot return home and must depend on Caritas.

Another family told Caritas Iraq that they were stopped as they fled Mosul and asked to hand over their possessions at a checkpoint. When they refused, the armed men seized their baby and threatened to kill it. They gave what they had to save their child.

Caritas has heard of similar stories of daughters being seized at checkpoints unless belongings are handed over.

UPDATE: Caritas Iraq says extremist advances mean Christian families living in Nineveh plain have fled.

Caritas Iraq is warning of a humanitarian catastrophe for the tens of thousands families forced from their homes and living in appalling conditions.

Caritas continues to receive families of all religions and backgrounds at its centres and through its volunteers.

Meanwhile in Lebanon, Caritas says the security situation in Arsal on the eastern border with Syria is extremely volatile after extremists launched attacks there. Tens of thousands have fled and many remain trapped.

Caritas Lebanon is also welcoming a wave of Iraqi Christians fleeing Mosul.

Caritas is calling for prayers of solidarity with Iraqi Christians and all people caught in this conflict. A message on behalf of Pope Francis on Iraq calls on the whole Church and all the faithful to “raise up with one voice a ceaseless prayer, imploring the Holy Spirit to send the gift of peace.”