By The Tablet
18 September 2014
Some 10,000 Iraqi Christians have applied for visas at the
French consulate in Erbil, capital of the Kurdistan region where they
have taken refuge from Islamic State militants who drove them from their
homes, according to the France-based Association for Support of
Minorities of the East (AEMO).
AEMO secretary-general Elish Yako urged the French Government to
speed up visa proceedings for the Christian refugees. Only 55 had been
allowed to enter France so far, he told a news conference at the French
Senate in Paris.
“We have about 30 families that have offered to receive Iraqis in
France and are eagerly awaiting them,” he said. Urging a quick response,
he warned: “Winter is coming in a month.”
Joelle Garriaud-Maylam, senator representing French living abroad,
said refugees needed to be received with dignity. “We know we can’t take
them all in,” she said. “We also can’t forget the other suffering
minorities, such as the Yazidis.”
A French church delegation led by bishops’ conference president
Archbishop Georges Pontier also discussed the fate of Middle Eastern
Christians at an annual meeting with the Government, led this year for
the first time by Prime Minister Manuel Valls. Neither side gave further
details of the talks, which covered a range of issues of concern to the
The Muslim Council (CFCM) in France, home to Europe’s largest Islamic
minority, urged all mosques across the country to pray for Middle
Eastern Christians at their main Friday prayers. It also urged Muslims
to help refugees who reached France.
It was the first time the Council took such an initiative, although
several of its member mosque networks have issued their own
denunciations of Islamic State’s persecution of religious minorities.
In a joint statement with a Christian group defending Eastern
Christians, the Council denounced the Islamic State militants, saying
“barbarians are perpetrating crimes against humanity" in the region
"exploiting Islam as their banner”.
Several French-based Eastern Christian clergy attended the meeting
and thanked the Muslim groups for their support." "This is something that
had to be done", said Coptic Orthodox Bishop Abba Athanasios.
About 700 people attended a rally in support of Middle Eastern
Christians in Bordeaux on 13 September. Cardinal Jean-Pierre Ricard, the
city’s archbishop, and other local clergy, including Maronite priests,
and a local imam attended the rally.