Iraq: MPs witness suffering of Iraqi refugee families

  • Written by:

John Newton
l-r: Neville Kyrke-Smith National Director, ACN UK; Canon Pat Browne, Catholic Duty Chaplain to Parliament, Jim Shannon, MP; Archbishop Bashar Warda; Mark Menzies, MP; Chris Green, MP; Fr Dominic Robinson SJ, National Ecclesiastical Assistant, ACN UK, Dr Caroline Hull, NW Manager, ACN UK

Three MPs joined an Aid to the Church in Need project trip to see the situation of refugees in Erbil, northern Iraq, who are being cared for by the Church.

The group visited camps for displaced families, met with with high-ranking prelates and government officials, and also attended an ordination ceremony.

Jim Shannon MP for Strangford, and chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for International Freedom of Religion or Belief, travelled with Chris Green, MP for Bolton West, Mark Menzies, MP for Fylde, Canon Pat Browne, Catholic Duty Chaplain to Parliament, Jim Shannon, MP; Mark Menzies, MP and Fr Dominic Robinson SJ.

Jim Shannon said: “It was illuminating, it was heartening, it was humbling. For me, it was an opportunity to see in some places a very thriving Church, and in other places a very persecuted Church, to meet some of those who had to flee with only the shirt on their backs as Daesh (ISIS) descended upon them to do their worst.”

He added: “There were many things that impressed me, but one thing that impressed me greatly was when we went around the camps and I met some of the displaced people was this – they had lost so much, but they had on their walls a picture of the Lord Jesus with the words: ‘Jesus I will trust in thee’. For me though it was their Faith that was sustaining them, so it was an important visit to make and one that I’ll never forget.”

The trip included a visit to Ashty 2 Camp, Ankawa, Erbil where 5,500 people are living in 1,088 housing units.

Chaldean Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil, who is overseeing the Church’s aid efforts, said that the overall number of Christian families in the camps has fallen from 120,000 to 100,000. Many families have left the country.

Archbishop Warda told MPs that his top priorities were renting houses for the displaced, providing them with food, setting up more medical centres, and giving families pastoral and spiritual support. He decried the lack of aid from the Iraqi government in Baghdad, saying they had provided no help, but thanked charities, including Aid to the Church in Need which assisted with €10 million last year for a range of projects in Iraq.

The Chaldean Archbishop said: “We rely on you telling the story of the situation and the importance of Christians remaining, so that the Christians can help be a bridge between the different groups.”

MPs and ACN staff also attended ordinations held in the Cathedral of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, Ankawa – which included that of 25-year-old Fr Martin Banni, who trained at St Peter’s Seminary, Erbil.

While many members of Father Banni’s family have left Iraq for the US or Sweden, he decided to remain in Iraq to minister to those still there.

Head of the Chaldean Church Patriarch Raphael Sako said: “This ordination is a sign of hope – we hope that the refugees will be able to go home soon. Father Martin should be a model of Christ – of courage and sacrifice.”

The trip also included a meetingwith Falah Mustafa Bakir, Head of the Kurdish Regional Government’s Department of Foreign Relations.

Jim Shannon MP said: “To meet some of the families and some of the individuals who had lost loved ones to me will make a very big difference to the next time I pray.”

He revealed that he had been regularly praying for Iraq and its Christian community, adding: “The next time I pray it will be through the experiences we’ve had. That was why it was so important to be there personally. I also what Aid to the Church in Need does physically and spiritually to support our Christian brothers and sisters – ensuring that help is given at every level that is humanly possible. I was impressed by that.

“I was also impressed by the resilience of the Iraqis themselves to come through things that we can’t imagine, in ways that have changed their lives – probably forever in many cases.”