Archbishop of Erbil warns that Turkey’s anti-Kurdish offensive will create more refugees

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Bishop Warda is worried about escalating violence in northern Syria, hopes “all the parties” will help protect “innocent civilians”. People won’t take another conflict. At least 275,000 people have fled. In Turkey, police arrested four mayors elected with a Kurdish party.

Erbil (AsiaNews) – As a Church “our prayers and hopes” are always for an “end” to this “endless circle of violence”, writes Mgr Bashar M Warda, Chaldean archbishop of Erbil (Iraqi Kurdistan) in a note to AsiaNews. Hopefully, “all the parties involved” will protect “innocent civilians” caught up in the escalating violence caused by Turkey’s offensive against the Kurds in northern Syria. Very concerned for the fate of “refugees and displaced innocents of all faiths”, the prelate cannot hide his fears that a “new wave of refugees” might engulf the region. For this reason, he is calling on the people of Erbil and northern Iraq to prepare for the possible arrival of more refugees. “Our question is how the international community can help if and when the time comes to take in these innocent people, but we fear that this moment may be imminent,” he explains. In the last two years, “a growing number of Syrian Christian refugees” have arrived in Erbil after leaving their homes, seeking acceptance among the Christians in Iraqi Kurdistan. Many more are expected to flee the latest conflict in north-eastern Syria. “Let us pray that the government of Iraq, the Kurdish regional administration and the international community will not turn away their gaze,” but will instead help the “innocent people of all faiths”. Already, an estimated 275,000 people are believed to have fled Kurdish majority northern Syria. In an editorial in the Wall Street Journal, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has tried to justify his Operation Peace Spring by saying that it seeks to limit the threat along its borders. For this reason, he calls on the international community to help his country’s efforts to accept refugees. “Since the Syrian civil war began in 2011, no country has felt the pain of the ensuing humanitarian crisis more severely than Turkey,” writes the Turkish president. “We took in 3.6 million Syrian refugees – more than any other country – and spent billion to offer them education, health care and housing. Our culture of hospitality compelled us to shoulder the burden of hosting millions of war victims with very little help from the international community.” However, the Turkish leader forgets or pretends to forget that this policy was designed to gain support by showing tolerance and friendship towards fellow Muslims, and was later ditched when Turkey showed the first signs of a pending economic crisis. In Europe various governments are threatening to cut arms supplies to Turkey whilst US President Donald Trump announced sanctions against Ankara and three of its ministers. In Turkey, local police continue their hunt for dissidents, opponents and critical voices. In a series of dawn raids, four mayors elected with the main Kurdish party were taken into custody. China also spoke out against Turkey today, calling on Ankara to return to the right path towards a political solution to the issue. In light of the situation, the Archbishop of Erbil is worried by the tensions and instability. In his view, “minorities cannot go through another serious conflict”, which will have repercussions in Iraq. For him, it is crucial that the government deploy its own force to take control of northern areas and remove armed militias. “We call on everyone to pray for the innocents of Syria and Iraq at such a critical time.”