Barnabas Fund - International Headquarters River Street, Pewsey, Wilthire. Phone: +44 1672 565030 Latitude: 51 deg 23 min 18 sec N Longitude: 1 deg 45 min 48 sec W .
Iraqi Christians Look For Protection Fro...

Email:

Iraqi Christians Look For Protection From The Storm

To

Email address:
Separate multiple addresses with a comma (,). Maximum of 10

From

Your name:
Your email address:
Security test:
Please enter the numbers that appear here in the box below.
refresh captcha
CAPTCHA Image
Security code:

Details provided here will never be used in any other context

Iraqi Christians Look For Protection From The Storm

Country/Region: IRAQ

As the UN launches its campaign to raise money for the refugees of the Iraq conflict, most attention is focused on Sunni and Shia families forced to leave their home towns by sectarian violence. The fate of non-Muslim minorities, particularly Christians, deserves equal attention. The Iraqi Christian population has fallen to a third of its level of twenty years ago. As Barnabas Fund reports, those who have fled fear they may never be able to return to their homeland.

Daily struggle

As the dawn light struggles to illuminate the tiny one-roomed apartment in a run-down suburb of Damascus, George* begins the daily struggle to provide for his grown-up daughters. A member of Iraq's Christian minority, he arrived here in late December, bringing just the clothes on his back and the family he so nearly lost.

Until late 2006 he lived in Baghdad. A widower and father of three, he divided his time between his work as an electrician and caring for his eldest daughter, who has terminal cancer. Then one morning the masked militia arrived at his door. They sacked and looted the house, took all his savings, and told him to leave the country if he wanted to live. George had no reason to doubt that they would carry out their threat. He has seen many Christians in his neighbourhood die at the hands of the militant gangs.

Not far away Mariam awakes in the small room she shares with her family and another couple. An Assyrian Christian in her late 20s, she used to live in Mosul. When her husband disappeared in April 2006, she feared the worst. His body was later discovered, half-buried under rotting rubbish on wasteland outside the city, riddled with bullets. Unable to provide for her children and fearing for their lives, Mariam fled with her three children, aged 14, 11 and 10, taking their meagre savings and what they could carry.

Such stories are typical among the thousands of Iraqi Christian refugees in Syria's capital. As running battles between Sunni and Shia insurgents engulf Iraq, the Christian minority is being caught in the middle. Iraqi Christians numbered some 1.4 million in the early 1980s, concentrated in Mosul, Basra and Baghdad. Today that figure stands at around 500,000. Estimates suggest that anything up to 350,000 Iraqi Christians have fled since 2003 alone. Most who have left Iraq now live as refugees in neighbouring countries, with Syria hosting the largest number of Iraqi Christian refugees.

Climate of fear

The Iraqi refugees that teem through Damascus and other cities have run from the climate of fear that pervades their country. Christians are particularly vulnerable because of their religion. To many Sunni and Shia militia living in Iraq, Christians are the enemy within. Militants see an automatic link between Iraqi Christians and the "Christian" West, and so hold them responsible for the invasion and subsequent hardships, as well as the previous Persian Gulf War of 1991 and UN sanctions.

Militant gangs target Christians from all walks of life. Whatever the motive - financial, religious, territorial - they have one thing in common; they want the Christians out of Iraq. The anonymous notes posted to Christian families in Mosul in December say it all: "Leave, crusaders, or we will cut off your heads."

Dwindling funds

For those that manage to leave Iraq, life as a refugee is a continual struggle for survival. Neighbouring countries may provide shelter, but they are not equipped to offer a living to refugees. Living space in the cities hosting refugees comes at a premium, and the costs of basic necessities rise almost daily. Most refugees leave Iraq with nothing in the way of possession, and what savings they have disappear rapidly on food and rent. Mariam and George are lucky to have any kind of roof over their heads; all around them, entire families are living in their cars as they drive from place to place, looking for shelter and work.

Work in particular is not easy to come by. Whilst granting refuge to those fleeing Iraq, neighbouring countries are not providing them with work permits. When she can, Mariam picks up work as a cleaner to try to earn enough money to keep a roof over her children. George is not so fortunate. Along with hundreds of others, he relies on charity and the local church community to keep a roof over his family. Without that, he will have nothing.

Protection from the storm

Leaving the country is not an option for all Iraqi Christians. Getting out of the country is expensive and difficult; many do not have the funds to get across the border. Others, understandably, simply do not want to leave their homeland. Iraq, and particularly the churches in the North, where there have been Christians since the first century AD. Many see it as unforgivable to leave this land so rich in Christian history.

For Christians remaining in Iraq, the question of where they can go for protection is difficult. Some are heading to the Kurdish area in the north of the country, where they are being given a cautious welcome by Kurdish leaders. With an autonomous Kurdistan proposed in the north of the country, Christians and Kurds are talking about providing an area of the Nineveh Plains for Iraqi Christians. Some Christian leaders are optimistic that, in the short tem, they can live here in relative security.

Economic collapse

However, even if such a plan goes ahead, the problems do not end there. With the collapse of Iraqi society has come the collapse of the economy. Finding employment to be able to provide accommodation and food is a major struggle. "Next to security, money and employment are the biggest problems the Christian population face", according to Polous*, a Christian community leader. "Our brothers and sisters abroad cannot work, and rely on charity for their daily needs. Those who remain in Iraq also need food and shelter. Without that, we cannot survive."

Other Christian leaders are wary of a plan to permanently house the Christian minority in the North. One has compared it to moving a patient from a hospital to a hospice. "Sending all Iraqi Christians to the North is the same as sending Christianity in Iraq to die," he says. "We need help to get our Christian brothers and sisters out of the country. Only then will they be safe."

This may get harder as 2007 goes on. With the numbers of Iraqis fleeing the country continuing to rise, neighbouring countries are beginning to sound alarm bells about their continued ability to offer asylum. Both Jordan and Syria indicated in December 2006 that they may be forced to close their borders to refugees, as they do not have the capacity to cope. If this occurs, those Christians left trapped in Iraqi cities with a hostile majority population face a stark future

One thing all leaders do agree on though is that the Christians face a very different danger to the majority Muslim population of the country. As Polous puts it, "The difference is that Sunni and Shia have somewhere in Iraq they can go to. The Shia will always find friends in the South, and the Sunni will find refuge in Anbar and Falluja. For the Christians, there is nowhere else to go where they will be safe. They can only hope and pray that they make the right choice."

* all names have been changed for the safety of the people involved.

Help us: Share this article

Email:

Iraqi Christians Look For Protection From The Storm

To

Email address:
Separate multiple addresses with a comma (,). Maximum of 10

From

Your name:
Your email address:
Security test:
Please enter the numbers that appear here in the box below.
refresh captcha
CAPTCHA Image
Security code:

Details provided here will never be used in any other context

christian, persecution, charity, church, persecuted, sookhdeo, Islam

Other articles

Follow Barnabas

or

receive news & appeal emails as they are published

From Twitter

From Twitter_icon

    Daily prayer

    Daily prayer_icon
    • Give thanks that members of a Pakistani Christian family who have been trapped in bonded labour for years have been rescued by Barnabas partners. The owner of the brick kiln where they worked had kept them enslaved by withholding their wages and forcing them to take out a loan from him. When they tried to leave, he made them return, and he beat, tortured and threatened to kill them. The father of the family died in 2013 as a result of illness and weakness. But earlier this year, his widow sought help from our partners, and they obtained a court order for the recovery of the family. Pray for the three members who have already been rescued as they recuperate at a safe house. Pray too for the efforts to secure the freedom of six others still held by the owner. Subscribe to the prayer points rss feed 17 hours ago

    • About 1,500 Christians staged a protest in Lahore, Pakistan in June 2014 over the grabbing of church-owned property by the government of Punjab. Over ten large properties, including a church, schools, hospitals and graveyards, have been taken. Christian leaders met with the Lahore District Coordination Officer on 15 June to demand the return of the latest school to be seized, but when they failed to get a positive response, Christian protestors took to the streets. Pray that the provincial government will respect the property rights of the churches. Subscribe to the prayer points rss feed Thu, Aug 2014 00:00

    • Praise God that Pakistan’s Supreme Court has instructed the government to take specific steps to protect religious minorities from violence and intolerance. The ruling was issued partly in response to the deadly attack on All Saints Church in Peshawar in September 2013, which claimed over 100 lives. The court ordered the formation of a National Council for Minority Rights, a special police force to protect places of worship, and a taskforce to develop strategies to counter intolerance, along with further corrective measures. Campaigners for the rights of Christians in Pakistan welcomed the moves but expressed reservations about whether they would be implemented. Pray that the measures will achieve a tangible improvement in the condition of the country’s Christians. Subscribe to the prayer points rss feed Wed, Aug 2014 00:00

    • Loving Father, we cry out to You for the loved ones of ten Egyptian Christians who were murdered in Libya in February and March this year. We ask that You will bring your healing and peace to their families and friends and comfort their congregations in their loss. We pray for protection for Egyptian and other expatriate Christians in Libya and ask that their neighbours will not yield to requests by the militants to hand them over and get a reward in return. We pray that further Islamist attacks against Christians will be prevented and that the Libyan authorities will establish a greater measure of control over the country. Subscribe to the prayer points rss feed Tue, Aug 2014 00:00

    • Pray for Egyptian Christians who are leaving Libya in the face of growing violence against them. Many have gone there seeking work, but following the recent spate of killings, they are now fleeing. An Egyptian church leader has said that attacks and threats against Christians in the region are an attempt at “genocide”. Pray that what seems to be a targeted Islamist campaign to wipe Christians out of Libya will not succeed. Subscribe to the prayer points rss feed Mon, Aug 2014 00:00

    © Barnabas Fund 1997 - 2014 All rights reserved. Barnabas Fund Australia Limited, a Company Limited by Guarantee – ABN: 70 005 572 485
    Barnabas Fund & Barnabas Aid are registered trade marks