The Christian communities of Syria and Iraq are in the middle of a "cataclysmic crisis", a report warns today.
Their very existence is in peril as the world stands witness to one
of the greatest threats to the Christian Church in the Middle East since
its birth over 2,000 years ago.
Christians are facing targeted persecution and leaving Syria and Iraq at an increasing rate, the report says.
If this rate of emigration continues, within a few years the
Christian communities in these countries will be utterly devastated.
It is both unthinkable and unacceptable for a fellow human being,
particularly a fellow-Christian, to walk by on the other side, says the
charity Open Doors in its report, Hope For The Middle East: The impact and significance of the Christian presence in Syria and Iraq – past, present and future.
The report, written by Open Doors working with Middle East Concern
and the University of East London, warns that war in Syria and Iraq has
"unleashed a tidal wave of violent persecution".
This has targeted the highly vulnerable Christian population and has
dramatically accelerated the flight of Christians from Iraq and Syria.
Before 2011, Syrian Christians numbered about eight per cent of the
population of 22 million. Today about half are believed to have left the
country. Before 2003, there were around 1.5 million Christians in Iraq –
less than five per cent of the population. Today, estimates hover
between 200,000 and 250,000.
As many as eight in 10 Christians are now thought to have left, many
with no hope or expectation of return. Many are classed as internally
displaced and have sought refuge in other parts of Iraq or Syria. Other
have fled to countries such as Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and beyond, their
homes, properties and businesses confiscated or destroyed.
Despite the crisis the Christians are facing, Christian Today reported last week that just 51 Christians from Syria have relocated to the UK under the Government's vulnerable persons resettlement scheme.
However, Christians make up a disproportionate number of Iraqi
refugees. There were more than a quarter of a million registered Iraqi
refugees in Syria during 2004-2010. Of these, 44 per cent were
Many of those who do remain want to play their part in rebuilding their shattered societies, the report says.
The report says that Middle Eastern Christians are suffering disproportionately and are targeted because they are Christians.
Their sufferings include being taken hostage, church leaders
assassinated, Christian homes, businesses and churches commandeered or
destroyed, women and girls raped and forced into sexual slavery, those
living in ISIS territory forced to pay the Jizya tax to survive, and
mass forced displacement.
Some political bodies have already described this as genocide.
"Clearly, Christians are not the only victims. But a previous report
from Open Doors demonstrated that Christians were being specifically
targeted and were especially vulnerable to persecution," says Open
It is also clear that Islamic State is not the only source of
persecution and violence directed towards Christians. Christians face
increased harassment and violence from government forces and a range of
Open Doors is calling for current and future legal frameworks in
Syria and Iraq to promote and protect the equal rights of all their
citizens, for the improvement of living conditions for all citizens and
for religious leaders and faith-based organisations to be equipped to
play a constructive and central role in rebuilding in Syria and Iraq.