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'Secular' EU told of Christian suffering in Middle East

  • Religious leaders discussed integration and migration in the Commission (Photo: European Commission)

European religious leaders expressed concern over the Christian communities' plight in the Middle East, as representatives of all European religions met with EU commissioners in Brussels on Tuesday (29 November).

"They [Christians] need support, material support, concrete support and a safe place," Bishop Heinrich Bedford-Strohm, chairman of the council of the Evangelical Church in Germany, said at a press conference.

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He recalled his trip to nothern Iraq two years ago, when Isis, a jihadist group, took over large swaths of territory where Christians have lived for thousands of years.

Those areas were recently liberated in the Iraqi army’s offensive to free the city of Mosul.

Answering a journalist's question, Bedford-Strohm said Christians in the region wanted to return to their homes and wanted protection.

"Many people told me we will leave if this happens again, they need support by the European Commission and other institutions," Bedford-Strohm said.

Arie Folger, the chief rabbi of Vienna, said he was "very concerned the plight of Christians in certain parts of the Middle East has not been considered a matter serious enough for European countries, for Western countries in general, to get involved and react."

He added that extremism in the region, for instance in Iraq, also makes Muslims suffer.

Archbishop Polycarpus Augin Aydin of the Syriac Orthodox Church of Antioch in the Netherlands warned that without diversity there cannot be development in the region.

The meeting of the religious leaders and the EU commission focused on migration and on ”putting European values into action".

Frans Timmermans, the first vice-president of the EU executive, said they had talked about migration and "the way we can make a success of the integration of newcomers, sharing values, respecting differences, fostering mutual understanding, without looking for assimilation."

According to estimates, after the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, only 500,000 Christians remained, mostly in the northern part of the country, out of the original population of 1.4 million. Hundreds of thousands have left since Isis took over the territory more than two years ago.

They are spread across refugee camps in Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey. Some have made their way to Europe.

"Without help from all these countries, we cannot do anything. We don't trust the government in Baghdad," Nicodemos Daoud Matti Sharaf, the Syriac Orthodox archbishop of Mosul told Euobserver in Erbil in early November.

He also fled Mosul in 2014, when Isis took over the town.

“We hope for an internationally protected Christian autonomous region,” he added, saying that what happened to the Christian community in northern Iraq under Isis amounted to genocide.

The archbishop of Mosul had little hope that Europe would come to the rescue of his community, however. "Europe is not Christian. They said so themselves. It is secular”, he said.

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