MEPs Confronted With Dire State of Iraq’s Christians

As Iraq’s Christians flee violence and intimidation in Iraq, a roundtable in the European Parliament has sought to raise the awareness of this neglected tragedy.

Below is an article written by UNPO:

8 October 2008, Brussels – The first meeting in the European Parliament of the EPP-ED (European People’s Party-European Democrats) Group’s roundtable on ‘Christian Communities in the Muslim World: Iraq’ has painted a stark picture of Iraq’s Christian minority following the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Attendees learned of new evidence that illustrated the ongoing victimization that has already caused the exodus of thousands of Christians to neighboring countries such as Jordan and Syria.

In his introduction, Mr. Vito Bonsignore MEP expressed his belief that “everyone has a right to practice their faith completely freely” and expressed the hope that this roundtable would act as one initiative which could serve to break the silence on the parlous situation of Christians living in the Middle East.

Mr. Mario Mauro, Vice-President of the European Parliament went on to lay out the aims of the roundtable, which is part of the EPP-ED’s working party on Islam. The roundtable represented “a dialogue in the real sense of the word” he stated, and was one element in a “struggle for human dignity” which was currently under threat from fundamentalism and relativist religious doctrines in the Middle East.

Opening the panel discussions, Monsignor Krzysztof Nitkieicz, Undersecretary of Congregation of Oriental Churches for the Holy See, saw the role of dialogue as a point of origin for change in the region. A number of actions were required to support such change however. These should include practical steps to reduce the exodus of Christians from the region, investment in the social services which to date had been sorely neglected, and the apportioning of aid free of any prejudice or bias. Encouraging pilgrimages “to make tangible the closeness of the churches” would bring economic advantages and encourage Christian brethren to become “sensitized” to the situation of their Iraqi counterparts.

Questions to the panel made clear the widespread perception that new and more robust channels of official dialogue needed to be opened – these channels were necessary to raise international awareness of what was happening to Christians in the Middle East. Monsignor Nitkieicz recognized this, stating that the pressure placed upon Christian to convert was something that had for too long gone overlooked.

Mr. Joseph Daul, President of the EPP-ED Group, spoke also of the need to take practical measures to combat the high unemployment and religious fundamentalism that lay at the root of the Christian exodus from the region, and Iraq in particular. Ultimately however a political solution would have to be found whereby Christians could legitimately claim to have a say in the running of Iraq.

The second panel of the roundtable, ‘Evolution of the Christian Communities in the Middle East’ was led by Ms. Jannie Kuik of IKV Pax Christi who spoke of the need to recognize that Christians in the Middle East were paying the price for Western anti-Islamism – not only in Iraq, but throughout the Middle East. The exodus of Christians was also removing from the region an important ally for moderate Muslims who sought to promote the spread of secular democracy in the region.

Focusing on Iraq, the third panel introduced His Eminence Basile Georges Casmoussa, Archbishop of Mosul for the Syrian-Catholic Church who emphasized the “heartbreaking” situation of the Christian community in the Middle East. The Christian community was “suffering sustained persecution” in the region, and in Iraq Christian refugees composed 40% of the total number – this in spite of the fact that Christians constitute only approximately 4% of the total population. Speaking of the immediate situation, Bishop Casmoussa warned of an emerging humanitarian crisis as aid was not reaching Christians in Iraq. Reinforcing the conclusions of previous panelists, Bishop Casmoussa stated that policies of intimidation just not be allowed to prevail and that the region’s “future lies in peace, not emigration” of the Christian minority.

Mr. Nickolay Mladenov MEP, a member of the European Parliament’s delegation to Iraq, commented on opening the final panel of the roundtable that a solution to the crisis of the Christian minority rested on three pillars: security, political representation, and international assistance. Speaking in details, Mr. Mladenov stated that more Christians would have to be recruited into the Iraqi police forces to build confidence and Article 50 would have to reinstated to preserve Christian representation within Iraq. Both were measures that Mr. Mladenov stated he would be raising on 13 October 2008 when a delegation from Iraq would be visiting Brussels.

Kirkuk was identified as a crucial issue by Ms. Naglaa Elhag, of the IKV Pax Christi organization, in her presentation on ‘The Situation of Refugees in Iraq’ – the topic of the final panel. Until this was addressed and Europe adopted a cohesive policy there were few positive signs to be seen in the region Ms. Elhag concluded. Even outside Iraq, Christians continued to find themselves excluded from basic social services and had to face ongoing intimidation and violence. There was also a pressing need to hold the Iraqi government accountable for its failure to adequately protect the Iraqi Christian minority.