Cardinal says keep religion out of Iraqi visa decisions

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PARIS (Reuters) – Iraqi Christians seeking asylum in the West should not receive special treatment based on religion, a Roman Catholic cardinal said on Monday, contradicting French and German calls for priority to be given to Christians.

“If countries are to help by issuing visas, they should be given according to need and not because they are going to Christians or Muslims,” said the head of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Oriental Churches, Cardinal Leonardo Sandri.

Last month the European Union’s Slovenian presidency said no specific steps should be taken to help Iraqi Christians but that a meeting of ministers next month would focus on helping the country’s minorities — a move Sandri said he welcomed.

“There is a new EU solution to take in many Iraqi refugees, Christians and otherwise. We will continue to support such efforts,” he told reporters during a visit to Paris.

Earlier this year French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner proposed granting some 500 visas to Iraqi Christians because of the particular plight he said they suffered.

German Interior Minister Wolfgang Schauble has also spoken of specific help. He told Tagesspiegel newspaper last week he felt it made sense that Turkey provide shelter for more of Iraq’s Muslim refugees and Germany for more of its Christians.

Some two million refugees fled from the ethnic strife that has ravaged Iraq since the 2003 war.

Christians make up around three percent of the population in mostly Muslim Iraq.

A number of Christian clergy have been kidnapped and killed and churches bombed in Iraq since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.

Earlier this year a Chaldean Catholic archbishop who had been kidnapped was found dead in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul.

(Reporting by Brian Rohan; editing by Keith Weir)