UK will send Iraqis back, despite death of Archbishop

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by Bill Bowder
In mourning: a portrait of the Most Revd Paulos Faraj Rahho is carried during his funeral procession in a village outside Mosul last Friday AP

THE DEATH of the Archbishop of Mosul while in the hands of kidnappers could drive the Church in Iraq underground, it was said last week.
The body of the 65-year-old Chaldean Archbishop, the Most Revd Paulos Faraj Rahho, who suffered from a heart condition, was found on Thursday of last week in a shallow grave near his church, after his kidnappers had told his staff where to find him. He had been captured two weeks earlier when he was leaving church (News, 7 March). His driver and two companions were shot dead by his assailants, who, it was said, wanted a ransom of £500,000.

His death was mourned by both the Archbishop of Canterbury, who spoke of his shock and sorrow, and the Pope, who said that the death was “an act of inhuman violence that offends the dignity of the human being”.

Canon Andrew White, who runs a church in Baghdad, as well as the Foundation for Relief and Reconciliation in the Middle East, said: “This killing shows the very real danger faced by Christians in Iraq. This awful event happened in the very heartland of Iraqi Christianity in Nineveh.” He blamed the attack on al-Qaeda. “They are very short of money and they hate Christians.”

The Chaldean Assyrian Syriac Council of America said that it was a sad day for all Christians. Iraq’s “true minorities” were being driven from their homes.

Dr Suha Rassam, who runs the charity Iraqi Christians in Need, based in London, said on Friday that the Archbishop’s “shocking” death would put Christians even more in fear of their lives.

“The only way for the Church in the Mosul area to survive might be if it goes underground, like it did in the first and second centuries. This way, mass and other services would be held in secret, and priests go about their duty clandestinely.”

The Archbishop had been on daily medication after a heart attack several years ago. When his body was discovered, he appeared to have been dead for a week, reports said.

Armed guard: Christians from St George’s, Baghdad, are protected during last week’s Palm Sunday procession, led by Canon Andrew White (left)

The Archbishop, who spent almost all his life in Mosul, spoke last November on Vatican Radio about the stark choices faced by Christians in the city. They could flee, convert to Islam, pay the Jizya, a tax imposed on non-Muslims, or risk being killed. One in three of the Christians in the city had fled, he said.

Despite these dangers, the Home Office was preparing to send more than 1400 rejected asylum-seekers back to Iraq, a Guardian report said last week. They had been given three weeks to go voluntarily or be forced to go. A Home Office spokeswoman said on Thursday last week it was “reasonable” that they should return home, after “an independent judge and appeals process” had found they did not need protection.

But if the policy was returning Christians to danger it was “a crime”, Dr Rassam said.

“Kurdistan is fairly independent and fairly safe. But if they are not Kurds and they are Christians, then where will they go? If they are from Baghdad or Mosul or lots of other areas, it would be a crime to send them back. This needs big representation to stop it. Christians in this situation are not safe.”