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Crisis escalates for Christians in Iraq

Violence and persecution against minority groups in Iraq continues, including communities of Christians which have been in existence for over 1500 years, said the
Executive of the National Council of Churches in Australia at its meeting this week.

The NCCA released a statement calling attention to the crisis.

Prior to 2003, 4% of Iraq’s population was Christian. Yet 40% of Iraq’s 2.2 million refugees are Christian, which indicates the seriousness and disproportionate degree of violence and persecution to which Iraqi Christians are being exposed.

“No one has been untouched by grief either by personal loss or to see their country torn apart by violence,” said Bishop Mar Meelis Zaia, Australian head of the Assyrian Church of the East.

According to Church sources this exodus is the result of a campaign of violence, murder, terrorism, threats, and intimidation targeted at the Christian minority.

Attacks have escalated since September, when the electoral law was changed to remove the system of quotas that ensured minority groups representation on provincial councils.

The result of government investigations and the arrest of about 12 people in relation to the latest wave of attacks are being awaited.

The international Assyrian Christian community is raising money to help. Local parishes are collecting money to help the Assyrian Church of the East Relief Organisation (ACERO) provide aid for people in the city of Mosul, where the recent escalation of attacks has been most severe.

In the long run the hope of those fleeing the country is for a self-governing administrative region within Iraq.

The NCCA statement said it stands in solidarity with Iraqi Christians, and the Assyrian Church of the East which has been a member Church of the Council for many years.

“We are distressed to hear of the suffering of Christians in Iraq, and the deliberate and targeted attacks which they are experiencing,” said the Revd John Henderson, the General Secretary of the NCCA.

“We continue to ask the Australian government to take this situation into account in its consideration of support for Iraqi refugees in Syria and Jordan, resettlement plans for Iraqi refugees once the country finds peace, and support for repatriation when it is safe to return.”

The statement urges the Australian Government to increase the level of aid to Iraq’s internally displaced people and Iraqi refugees in Jordan and Syria, and increase Australian refugee intake levels for the affected population.