Iraqi Christians fleeing to Lebanon

Lebanon, Aug. 20 (UPI) — Iraqi Christians are finding themselves in legal limbo in Lebanon as sectarian violence in northern Iraq forces many religious minorities to flee their country.

Iraqi Christians face increased sectarian tension in northern Iraq as al-Qaida fighters increasingly flock to the area as their last remaining stronghold. Many refugees in Lebanon told the Swiss ISN Security Watch that gunmen frequently threatened the Christian communities in Mosul with death if they did not convert to Islam.

The U.N. high commissioner for refugees said as many as 40 percent of the Iraqi refugees come from Christian minorities, despite representing only 4 percent of the Iraqi population.

Of the 50,000 Iraqi refugees living in Lebanon, around 30 percent are Christian. But Lebanese officials interviewed by ISN said that figure may rise as refugees have fled the deteriorating security situation in Mosul in the last few months.

Furthermore, Iraqi Christians seeking safety in Lebanon face squalid living conditions as Beirut has not offered protection to many of the refugees.

“Lebanon does not have a refugee law. It treats most Iraqis as illegal immigrants, regardless of their need to be protected as refugees,” said Stephane Jaquemet with UNHCR.