Christians are being excluded from the reconstruction plans for northern
Iraq, further eroding the likelihood of their return once Islamic State
has been militarily defeated there, an alliance of UK-based charities
Iraqi Christians firmly believe that Iraq is their spiritual
homeland; their presence dates back at least to the 3rd Century. Before
2003, there were approximately 1.5 million Christians in Iraq, but
estimates now range from 200,000 to 500,000. Approximately 70% of Iraq’s
Christians are from the Chaldean Catholic tradition, while the
remainder are Syriac Orthodox, Syriac Catholic, Armenian and Protestant.
After the Allied invasion of Iraq, many Christians fled the Baghdad
area for the north, where some towns (such as Qaraqosh) had been almost
95% Christian before 2003. It’s estimated that at the time Mosul was
invaded by Islamic State in June 2014, only about 3,000 Christians were
left from the 35,000 there in 2003.
Now the UK coalition of mainly Christian charities working in Iraq
and Syria says it’s “clear” that leaders of religious minority
communities are being excluded from the National Settlement plan being
put together by Iraq and other regional powers and presented to the UN.
The 88-page report, Ensuring Equality,
which brought together contributions from 16 NGOs, adds that it is
vital that Christians and other minority populations have support for
their political and security concerns if they are to feel reassured
enough to return to Mosul or the surrounding Nineveh Plains region,
rebuild their communities and undertake any reconciliation process.
“This must include full citizenship status and the rebuilding of churches and community centres,” says the report.
Participating charities have repeated the oft-reported claim that
Christians are not being supported by the international donor
institutions, such as the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), and
are having to rely on churches that are trying to run their own aid
programmes with limited funds.
The NGOs who contributed include Aid to the Church in Need, the
Assyrian Church of the East Relief Fund, the Syrian Network for Human
Rights, Syrian Christians for Peace, the Evangelical Christian Alliance
Church in Lebanon and the Alliance Church of Jordan.
“All the NGOs involved in this report state that the vast majority of
Christians and other ‘minorities’ avoid UNHCR camps and facilities
because of continuing discrimination and persecution,” the report says,
adding: “It is utterly unacceptable that a place of sanctuary should be a
place of fear that repels those it is designed to save and protect.”
However, it says that those who remain outside UNHCR camps “have
fared … unequally in the allocation of international aid, funding,
political support, media attention, and asylum placements”.
The report urges the UNHCR to scrap its “need not creed” approach and
acknowledge minorities’ particular experiences. It calls on the UNHCR to
open more mobile registration units to enable asylum-seekers outside UN
camps – who tend to be non-Muslims – to register. It also urges the
UNHCR to employ more non-Muslim registration and security staff, and
translators, to reduce discrimination against non-Muslims.
It recommends that Western governments giving aid should promote
tolerance of minorities by objecting to materials or media outlets that
promote extremism, and says the UNHCR should give converts from Islam to
Christianity urgent protection, because they “face a high risk of
assassination – even at the hands of fellow migrants in Europe”.
The report also recommends that the Balkan states that have expressed
a desire to take Christian refugees as part of their “EU allocation”
should be helped to do so. “At present this is being undermined by
pressure and threats from Germany and the dead hand of political
correctness,” it claims.
A similar call for more international aid was issued this week by a
14-member delegation of church leaders, who visited Baghdad and Erbil.
The group, brought together by the World Council of Churches, met
officials from the Baghdad and Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and
the UN. After a briefing from the UN Humanitarian Co-ordinator in Iraq,
Rev. Frank Chikane, moderator of the WCC’s Commission of the Churches on
International Affairs, said:
“The international donor support is woefully inadequate to meet the
continuing need, leaving the host communities and the KRG to carry the
burden on their own.”
In the Kremlin, the Russian Foreign
Minister on Wednesday (25 Jan.) accused the European Union of
“avoid[ing] the discussion on the problems of Christians in the Middle
East [by] putting itself under the infamous mask of political
Meanwhile the Al-Monitor news website reported last month
that the viability of the project for Iraqi national reconciliation,
outlined in December in the “national settlement” document, is
threatened by its exclusion of the country’s minority populations, such
as its Assyrian Christians.
One of Iraq’s few Christian MPs, Yonandam Kanna, secretary-general of
the Assyrian Democratic Movement, told the website that the settlement
did not include any clause determining the fate of disputed minority
areas, control of which is sought by Arab Iraq and the semi-autonomous
Kurdish region – such as the Nineveh Plains for the Christians and
He added: “Minorities do not have a say in this and they are not even
allowed to determine their own fate. The settlement does not take into
account the views of Christians or Yazidis, or any other less
influential minority groups.”
Mr. Kanna has previously criticised the national reconciliation
projects put forward by the larger political groups for failing to
provide guarantees that people who have committed atrocities against
minorities, such as Yazidis and Christians, would be brought to justice.
Another Christian Iraqi MP told a conference in Washington DC last
summer that the Iraqi Parliament “does not take minorities into
Global charity Open Doors, with others, has produced a detailed
report on the vital contribution that Christians make in Iraq (and
Syria). The report’s co-ordinator Rami* (not his real name) said: “We
need recognition for the vital role of the Church in rebuilding and
reconciliation… Maintaining the presence of Christians is not only about
them; it is for the good of society as a whole. In the reports and
research we’ve conducted, we have mapped, in a way, all the
contributions Christians have given to Iraq.”
The report begins: “When Christianity spread across what we now call
the Middle East and we see that since then until now Christians have
contributed to societies in literacy, in health, in translating and
contributing to the Arabic language. Some of the best early centres of
learning in the world were founded by Christians. Christians were among
the first to introduce charitable works and NGOs. We see them involved
in politics, and in the development of the Iraqi state. Christians are
among the most well-known business people. And in the future Christians,
alongside other numerical minorities, are vitally important for the
stability of [Iraq]. Policy-makers and researchers agree that we need to
maintain diversity in order to counter extremism and radicalisation. We
need diversity to ensure sustainable peace and lasting stability in the
The way that Open Doors is tackling these issues, Rami told World Watch Monitor in November,
involves working with indigenous church leaders, engaging with
governments and decision-makers across the globe, and trying to collect
One Million Voices in a petition in support of a campaign to bring “Hope to the Middle East”.