Rai demands safe return for Iraqi refugees

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The Daily Star
BEIRUT: The international community should take action to help Iraq’s Christians stay in their country, Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai said Friday during a one-day visit to Irbil.
“Christians should remain in Iraq because their history is rooted in Iraq, where they have lived alongside Muslims and built common civilizations,” Rai said, after landing in the city to head a joint Lebanese-Italian church delegation and visit Christian refugees who escaped persecution by ISIS in Iraq. “Their future is here too and they cannot let go of this land.”

The delegation, which included Archbishop of Milan Angelo Scola, was received at the airport by Patriarch of Babylon Louis Raphael I Sako, Kurdish Interior Minister Karim Sinjari, and other officials.

“Our main demand [is that] they return to their homes and lands in dignity. We have trusted the international coalition [battling ISIS] in that,” Rai said. “But unfortunately the terrorist groups are still growing and advancing. Here we should ask: Where are they receiving this strength from? Why is [ISIS] being treated as a state and not a terrorist group? We don’t speak the language of killing, but that of rights. The international community should not remain silent toward the violation of the rights of a whole people.”

The delegation then toured the refugee population, as well as a number of clinics and social centers. Rai also met with representatives of the Lebanese community in Iraq, who updated him on the country’s latest developments and security situation.

Sako, who thanked Rai and the delegation for the visit, said Lebanon should elect a president as the current “vacuum directly affects the Christians in Iraq and the Middle East.”

Scola expressed solidarity with the Iraqi people, speaking of the need for accurate and objective coverage of the events going on in the region.

The Kurdish minister welcomed the delegation and underlined the importance of Muslim-Christian coexistence in Iraq. “Our Christian brethren are part of Iraq’s culture and one of its special features,” he said, calling on the church to “encourage them to stay in Iraq because their emigration would be a great setback and a heavy loss for the country and its people.”

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on June 20, 2015, on page 3.