Controversy over France taking in 500 Iraqi Christians

Paris, March 22 (DPA) A French government announcement that it will grant asylum to 500 Iraqi Christians stirred controversy Saturday, with opponents warning it amounted to discrimination against Muslims. “The situation is very difficult for the Muslims, too, but the Christians have a particularly difficult time,” said Troyes Bishop Marc Stenger in defence of the move.

Several aid agencies had earlier criticised the government decision to grant the 500 people asylum in the coming weeks.

“It is risky showing preference to refugees on the strength of their religion,” said Pierre Henry, head of the France Terre d’Asile organisation.

Stenger, whose remarks were published in the edition of le Monde due out Sunday, visited Christian communities in northern Iraq last month.

He said half the 700,000-strong community there was already fleeing, and the situation had only worsened since the abduction and murder of Iraqi Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho.

The offer of asylum was meanwhile being taken up with mixed feelings by the Iraqi Christians, according to the Syrian Bishop of Mosul quoted by France Inter radio.

He said moving away was “moving away from ourselves” and the congregations would be sending mainly younger people who could later help the rebuilding process in their homeland.