Iraqi Christian refugees flock to Germany

BERLIN: More than 100 Iraqi Christians in search of a safer life will arrive this week in Hannover, a spokesman for Germany’s Interior Ministry said Wednesday.

The group of nearly 120 refugees will arrive Thursday, a day before the sixth anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, on a chartered plane from Syria. And many more are expected.

The resettlement is part of a program sponsored by the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. It is expected to help 10,000 Iraqi Christians relocate to Germany, Sweden and elsewhere in Europe.

“This program gives people who cannot return to their homeland a chance at a better life,” said Heinrich Huebner, a spokesman for Interior Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble. “High priority refugees not only include religious minorities, but women and children and people with illnesses who cannot receive medical help, as well.”

The Christian minority in Iraq has faced years of violence and intimidation from al-Qaida in Iraq and other Islamic extremists. In addition, Iraqi Christians are sometimes caught in the middle of a power struggle between Kurds and Sunni Arabs
Fears spiked in the fall with a string of murders of Christians in Mosul, driving thousands of Christian families to leave their homes.

Germany will eventually be home to about 2,500 Iraqi Christians, Huebner said. And Sweden recently agreed to accept 450 refugees from a refugee camp in Syria, he said.

In Germany, the refugees will be given clothes and medical care during an initial two-week stay in Friedland, in the state of Lower Saxony. Then they will be placed in cities across the country.

The refugees will receive 645 hours of intensive language, integration, and orientation courses, Huebner said.

“There is no integration without language” he said.

There are now about 4.5 million displaced Iraqis — 2.5 million inside Iraq, and most of the rest in neighboring countries such as Syria, Lebanon, Turkey, Egypt and Jordan.

Since the beginning of this year, 1,261 Iraqi refugees have been granted asylum in Germany, a 6.5 percent jump from the year before, according to government figures. Some 6,800 Iraqis applied for asylum in Germany last year.