Iraqi Christians

German Catholics warn Iraq Christianity 'facing total annihilation'

By Anli Serfontein

Trier, Germany, 28 January (ENI)--Roman Catholics in Germany have warned that Christianity in Iraq is faced with annihilation and that little is heard about it.

At a conference on Christian persecution held in Trier on 25 January a number of speakers, including Catholic leaders and lay people, warned that Christian persecution is still an issue in the 21st century.

The event, organised by the German Journalists' Union and the Catholic pastoral organisation Kirche in Not (Aid to the Church in Need), was called "Christian Persecution – not a media theme?"

Berthold Pelser, an official of Aid to the Church in Need, cautioned, "In Iraq today there is the threat of the total extinction of Christianity." He was introducing his book, "Freedom of Religion worldwide", which deals with the situation for Christians around the world.

After Sadam Hussein was overthrown from his post as Iraqi dictator in 2003, a civil war erupted between the Shiite and Sunni Muslims in Iraq and Christians were often caught in the middle, participants were told. Before the U.S.-backed forces occupied Iraq, 1.5 million Christians lived there, but today it is estimated only about half a million are left, speakers said.

"Fleeing cannot be the solution to the problem," declared Marie-Ange Siebrecht, head of the Asia-Africa Department of Aid to the Church in Need."The Christians in Iraq belong to the oldest parishes there are in the world; they have a nearly 2000-year-old tradition. Without them, the country loses its history and identity."

Five Iraqi refugees also addressed the conference to report on their experiences and demonstrate the seriousness of the situation.

Although Christians represented less than five per cent of the total Iraqi population, that is now estimated at 28 million, they make up 40 per cent of the refugees now living in nearby countries – most notably Syria and Jordan, according to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.

The Trier conference was opened by auxiliary Bishop Stephan Ackermann, who said that, "The persecution of Christians is no theme from ancient Rome; it is a highly relevant theme."

Ackermann told the gathering, "Two hundred million Christians around the world are living in distress or are even persecuted. That is nearly every 10th Christian. Eighty per cent of the people who are killed because of their religion are Christians."


German church urges European nations to admit Iraqi refugees


By Anli Serfontein

Trier, Germany, 24 September 2008 (ENI)--Churches in Germany have intensified appeals for their country and the European Union to accept more Iraqi refugees, amid reports that the German government is backing off plans to take in a contingent of Christians from Iraq.

"Given the catastrophic conditions in Iraq and the desperate situation of people who have fled to so-called primary host countries like Syria or Jordan, a further postponement of admitting Iraqi refugees can no longer be justified," said the Rev. Stephan Reimers, who represents the interests of the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD) to the German government and EU authorities.

Interior and justice ministers from the 27 EU countries are due to meet on 25 September to discuss a Europe-wide policy on the admission of Iraqi refugees.

Germany's interior minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, signalled in April his government's willingness to take in a contingent of Iraqi Christian refugees. However, a recent report in Germany's Der Spiegel news magazine suggested that Chancellor Angela Merkel opposes the fast track admittance into the country of Iraqi Christians.

Der Spiegel reported that this discordance became clear at a mid-September meeting between the German government and representatives of the Roman Catholic Church.

According to the UN refugee agency UNHCR, at least 4.4 million Iraqis have been uprooted since the U.S.-led military invasion in 2003. This includes 2.4 million displaced inside Iraq and two million outside, mainly in Syria and Jordan.

In late July, Chancellor Merkel met the Iraqi prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki, who promised an improvement of the situation of Christians in his country. At the same time, he warned that a wave of emigration of professionals from Iraq could harm the reconstruction process going on there.

"I think we should back plans to see the greatest number return home, with necessary encouragement," Merkel said at her joint press conference with al-Maliki.

Reimers, however, said the improvements in the human rights situation that al-Maliki had promised had not materialised.

"At the end of July we received the alarming news of an attack on Shiite pilgrims in Baghdad, in which 30 people died," said Reimers, adding that at the beginning of September, two Christians in the north of Iraq had been kidnapped and killed.

Still, EKD representative Reimers said that not even in Syria and Jordan could one speak of "relatively good" living conditions for refugees.

"Already in May this year they faced a desperate situation," said the church official, adding that he had been able to get a picture of the situation of refugees on his visits to the region.

The UNHCR estimates that more than 73 000 Iraqis live in exile in Germany, of whom half have been granted asylum. In 2007, 4327 Iraqis applied for asylum in Germany, nearly double the number for the previous year. In Europe, since 2003 Sweden and Greece have accepted the bulk of Iraqi refugees.

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