IRAQ: Christians seek new life in Europe

200361251.JPGMOSUL, 5 November 2007 (IRIN) – Members of the Iraqi Christian community in the northern cities of Mosul and Kirkuk have asked European countries to expedite their visa applications and grant them asylum, according to Christian leaders there.

“Most of the Christians in Iraq have moved to northern provinces as they flee violence against their religious group. Most of them were taking refuge in Mosul and Kirkuk but in the past two months, at least 27 Christians were killed in Mosul and Kirkuk as they were leaving their churches or community prayers in private residences,” said cleric and spokesman for the Christian Peace Association (CPA), Lucas Barini.

“Panic has spread, especially since women and children were among the victims,” Barini added. “In the past two weeks, at least 120 families have received threatening letters at their homes giving them a month to leave Mosul and Kirkuk but they don’t have anywhere else to go.”

According to Barini, the CPA and four local NGOs – Iraq Aid Association, White Birds Clerics Organisation, Catholic Organisation of Virgin Mary and Christian Refugee Council – have sent requests to European countries and international NGOs to help the Christian community, whose security, they say, has deteriorated. At the same time, many families lack the funds to leave Iraq.
“In the past two months, at least 27 Christians were killed in Mosul and Kirkuk as they were leaving their churches or community prayers in private residences.

“We prefer not to name the organisations and governments we have asked for help but we would like them to come up with a fast and serious solution to our problem as people are dying solely because of their faith,” Barini said.

Father Danilo Anuar, a spokesman for the Catholic Organisation of Virgin Mary, told IRIN: “We are trying to maintain our faith and religious work but on 23 October, a couple was killed for receiving people at their home in Mosul for prayers and since then we have asked families to pray only in their own homes and to keep their children indoors for as long as they can.”

450,000 Christians in Iraq

According to the CPA, about 450,000 Christians remain in Iraq out of 800,000 estimated before the US-led invasion in 2003.

“Nearly half have left the country and the other half are still here because they cannot flee or they have been denied [entry] visas to other countries. They aren’t patriotic to the point of losing their lives by staying in Iraq and urge European countries to allow them to live in their lands,” Anuar said.

The remaining Christian families, scared by the latest events, said they could not let more of their relatives be killed for their religious beliefs.

“During all the time that the Christian community lived in Iraq, we always respected their [Muslim] beliefs and they respected ours. Nowadays the only thing we see is our parents, sons, relatives being killed for praying to Jesus and it is unfair,” said Maria Rita, a Christian widow and mother of three from Mosul.

“We need to leave this country because it isn’t our land any more. We hope that the Christian community worldwide can help us by offering us a safer place to stay and prevent our community from shrinking further,” Rita added.