Churches urged to help break 'international silence' over Iraqi refugees

By staff writers
October 2, 2007

The members of the World Council of Churches (WCC) have been asked to engage "their own governments over the need to break the international silence on the humanitarian crisis in Iraq and provide greater assistance to displaced and refugee Iraqis".

The call is part of a "Statement on Iraq and its Christian communities" issued by the WCC executive committee at the end of its meeting in Etchmiadzin, Armenia. The WCC governing body affirms that although the "basic well-being and human rights of substantial portions of Iraqi society are heavily degraded after decades of wars and chaos, and remain under grave threat...the suffering of the Iraqi people remains largely unrecognized and unresolved."

According to the statement, one-third of the Iraqi population is in need of emergency and humanitarian assistance, while more than half live in "abject poverty or worse". The "prevalence of violence" by non-state armed groups, regular armed forces and criminal groups affects people in most parts of the country, causing "heavy casualties, fear, deprivation and emigration". As a result, one Iraqi in six is internally displaced or has fled outside the country.

Amid this situation, the fate of Iraq's Christian communities, although it cannot be seen in isolation from that of other Iraqi communities, "gives churches around the world particular cause for concern and reason to respond". Christians represent only four percent of Iraq's population, but they make up forty percent of its refugees, the statement notices.

The WCC statement praises "leading Muslim clerics who are using their authority to contain the violence in Iraq". It suggests that "joint Christian-Muslim advocacy overseas for tolerance and co-existence in Iraq would send a powerful signal to Iraqis of all faiths".

The WCC governing body statement calls on the Council's member churches to keep "the people and churches of Iraq in their prayers" and to provide "increased assistance to them for church life and for service to a society in great need". They are also requested to support displaced people inside Iraq and Iraqi refugees abroad – currently over two million people – as well as to raise awareness in their parishes and countries concerning Iraqi people's plight.

Noticing that "strategies based on the use of force have driven the country into chaos," the statement recalls "once again that policies of occupation do not have international church support". In a separate "Minute on Iran and the Middle East regional crisis," the WCC executive committee reaffirms its support for a "withdrawal of all US forces from Iraq and the implementation of alternative Iraqi and multilateral political, economic and security programs".

The global alliance Action by Churches Together (ACT) International, has recently launched a $873,000 (US) appeal to support Iraqi internally displaced people as well as refugees in neighbouring countries. There are an estimated 1.4 million Iraqi refugees in Syria and about 750,000 in Jordan. ACT International works in the region through its members: Middle East Council of Churches, International Christian Orthodox Charities and Norwegian Church Aid.

There is no British programme for resettling Iraqis in the UK - even for those who have served the UK authorities. Last year only 55 were granted some form of asylum.

The thinktank Ekklesia is amongst those who have previously proposed that Britain take many more Iraqi refugees. In March, Ekklesia's director Jonathan Bartley told BBC Radio 2's Jeremy Vine Show that Britain must face up to its 'moral responsibilities' with regard to Iraq.

Ekklesia's co-director Jonathan Bartley told BBC Radio 2's Jeremy Vine show; "Britain and the US were responsible for this mess. They have a duty to help to clean it up. This means being prepared to take more than a few hundred refugees.

"If Syria and Jordan, with much smaller populations than our own can take steps to provide for close to two million refugees, then we can certainly do our bit too. At the very least we should be undertaking to resource these countries. The cost would after all only be a fraction of the final bill for waging the war."

Later that month Christians gave evidence to the United Nations on the subject, urging Britain and US to open their doors to Iraq's displaced people.

The statement was given by Dominicans for Justice and Peace, Pax Christi International and 4 more partner organizations.

In December 2006, the Pope also made an appeal for the international community to do more.

The full text of the WCC executive committee Statement on Iraq and its Christian communities is available at:

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