Forgotten Iraqi Christians

Below are excerpts from an article by a minister in the present Australian government. The previous government had similar concerns

“Even casual observers of the international situation would be aware of the conflict between Sunni and Shiite communities in Iraq. But what has achieved less prominence in the national and international media is the fate of other Iraqi minorities: Assyrians, Chaldeans and Mandaeans.

Mandaeans, followers of John the Baptist, have non-violence as one of the tenets of their religion. Any form of violence, even in self-defence, is forbidden. They have thus been particularly vulnerable to attack. The much more numerous Assyrians and Chaldeans have also suffered significantly. This group are descendants of the ancient Assyrian empire, but no longer have a nation state to call their own. They predominantly live in Iraq’s north and are Christians.

It is hard to pinpoint the numbers of these minorities in Iraq. However, credible estimates put Assyrians and Chaldeans as 4 per cent of the population of Iraq, while they have constituted 40 per cent of the refugees leaving Iraq. Jordan and Syria have 2 million Iraqi refugees living within their borders, and they are not allowed to work. They live, by and large, in squalor, and they often rely on their children to bring in a little income. Thousands of children are being turned to crime to support their family.

It is estimated that there were 1.5 million Assyrians and Chaldeans in Iraq before the war; 600,000 are left, at most. Two thousand Assyrians and Chaldeans are still leaving Iraq every day. Churches have been bombed, priests and bishops kidnapped and murdered. Hundreds of thousands of Assyrian and Chaldean refugees live in desperate circumstances in Syria and Jordan. It is simply too dangerous for them to return.

There are of course, many millions of people from different groups around the world who face diabolical human rights and humanitarian catastrophes, all of whom deserve greater attention. However, in all the public debate about Iraq over recent years the Assyrian and Chaldean minorities have received scant attention from both governments and the media. Their plight is one of the untold stories of the narrative of post-Saddam Iraq. Their situation as minorities in Iraq has substantially worsened since the war.

As others have pointed out, the exodus of refugees from Iraq has been greater than that after the Vietnam War. But because the exodus has occurred quietly and to other Middle Eastern countries, as opposed to by boat, the crisis has become largely invisible. There is no monopoly of suffering in Iraq. But the suffering of these minorities has received scant international attention.

Of course, as a relatively small country on the other side of the world we are limited in what we can do to help. However, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Stephen Smith, has recently met two delegations of Assyrians and Chaldeans to discuss what more can be done, and he raised the issue with the Deputy Prime Minister of Iraq on his visit last month.