The leader of the Syriac Catholic Church has lashed out at Western governments, charging that they ignore the plight of displaced Christians in Iraq because they represent no economic stakes.
In an interview in the French capital with international charity Aid to the Church in Need, Patriarch Joseph III Younan of Antioch and All the East said the Western world had been largely silent about the situation facing Christians in northern Iraq.
The international policy-makers, when it comes to minorities, have no policies to help those who have neither the numbers, nor the riches to make them attractive. And we have no oil – that is to say, we do not offer any economic advantages,” he said.
The prelate said he had come to “France and Europe to bring the voice of these communities who were persecuted, forced into exile and deprived of everything because of their Christian faith.” “Unfortunately the supposedly ‘civilized’ Western world is rather silent,” he added. Discussing the situation of displaced Christian families in Kurdistan, the Patriarch said their “morale has fallen very low.
For months refugees have been living in this humanly unbearable situation – they have absolutely nothing. Winter has begun, and they don’t have help from humanitarian agencies, and sometimes they feel humiliated.”
He continued: “For example two weeks ago food crates were distributed but in one box they found a dead mouse. Imagine the people’s reaction. They used to live normally, they had their homes, their jobs, their church and they have become, through no fault of their own – just because they were Christians – refugees in their own country, without resources. We are going through a very, very tragic time.”
Patriarch Joseph stressed that the region does not have the resources to provide for the needs of all the estimated 140,000 Christians who have been displaced with housing, food, medical care, and education. The Catholic Bishops’ Emergency Committee in Iraq has been addressing many of these needs, the prelate said.
In addition to the ongoing provision of food and shelter, the Committee—supported by a number Catholic agencies and charities in the US—are now putting in place longer-term projects, including the construction of schools. A number of Iraqi refugees have made their way to other countries in the Middle East, such as Lebanon, where there are an estimated 8,000 Iraqi Christian refugees.
This total includes Iraqis who fled before the current crisis sparked by the emergence of ISIS.
“We were threatened with eradication five months ago when Mosul was invaded by terrorists imposing the Shari’a (Islamic law). The same thing happened more than two months ago on the Nineveh Plain. We, the Syriac Catholic community, were greatly affected. We left everything. We are refugees in our own country,” the Patriarch said.
“Today we must continue to give refugees the confidence and courage, the hope that one day they can return home – but that prospect seems more and more unreal and that’s what makes morale increasingly low.”
He concluded: “We need the international family of nations to take concrete steps to provide justice to refugees so that they can return home safely.” Syriac Catholics number some 180-200,000 living in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. In the last 20 years, at least as many members of the community have fled to other countries.
John Newton writes for Aid to the Church in Need, an international Catholic charity under the guidance of the Holy See, providing assistance to the suffering and persecuted Church in more than 140 countries.