08/14/2014, 00.00

As the UN declares a refugee emergency in Iraq, world Churches pray for fleeing Christians

The United Nations has declared a "Level 3 Emergency," its highest, to facilitate the mobilisation of assets and resources. The situation of minorities displaced by advancing Islamists is getting worse. The archbishop of Singapore and the Italian Bishops' Conference express their solidarity through prayers. Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I speaks out against indifference and silence. In Mosul, Islamists "cancel" the street named after Mgr Rahho.

Baghdad (AsiaNews) - The United Nations has declared the highest level of emergency in Iraq's humanitarian crisis, amid worsening conditions for hundreds of thousands of refugees - Yazidis, Christians, Turkmen, and Shabak - on the run from the militias of the Islamic State.

The rapid advance of Sunni guerrillas in the north has made aid and rescue operations by Western governments and the international community more difficult. However, UN experts believe that a 'Level 3 Emergency' should facilitate the mobilisation of additional assets and resources, as well as funding, to ensure a better response to the needs of populations.

The situation is especially critical on Mount Sinjar, where 20 to 30,000 Yazidis are stranded waiting for rescue.

In Dohuk alone, Kurdish authorities report the presence of least 150,000 refugees, outnumbering the local population, which is doing its best to welcome and help the newcomers.

In Erbil, minorities who fled their homes continue to live in precarious conditions, not far from the borders of the autonomous Kurdish region and sudden unpredictable fights with the Islamic militias.

With temperatures exceeding 40 degrees, refugees need food and water, as well as the means to keep them cool. They also need medical drugs and psychological counselling, but most are trying to get the right papers to move abroad in search of safety.

Even Christians in the north, who have found shelter in the churches of the city, report that "the attack by the Islamic State is the worst thing that could have happened." Despite "many wars," no one had seen "anything like this" before.

Meanwhile ankawa.com sources report that Caliphate soldiers, which took over Mosul in June, removed the street sign bearing the name of the bishop and martyr Paulos Faraj Rahho, who was murdered in March 2008 by the Islamist gunmen who had abducted him.

After his death, city authorities named the street in front of St Paul's Chaldean Church in honour of the fallen Iraqi prelate. Recently, fighters for the group formerly called the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) removed the street sign to replace it with one bearing the name one of their leaders, extremist Abe Abdul Rahman Albelawy.

To remember the situation of Iraq's Christian minority - and all the persecuted of the world - the Italian Church has called for a day of prayer tomorrow, the Feast of the Assumption. Sponsored by the Bishops' Conference, it reiterates the appeal launched by Pope Francis in last Sunday's reflection in which he expressed "dismay and disbelief" over reports coming from Iraq.

In response to the humanitarian crisis, AsiaNews launched 'Adopt a Christian from Mosul' to provide concrete means to deal with the tragedy unfolding in the Arab country and bring help to the faithful targeted by Islamic State. Hundreds of people worldwide have already responded to the campaign.

Solidarity with Iraqi Christians has also come from Singapore, where the archbishop, Mgr William Goh, has called on the faithful of the city-state to pray "for those who are afflicted by wars", in particular, "for our brothers and sisters who are being persecuted in their own land." His thoughts went to Iraqi Christians, victims of "atrocities" committed by the militias of the Islamic state as their suffering "strikes us as individuals and as members of the Church."

An appeal against the "indifference" and "silence" vis-à-vis the recent "wave of violence against innocent families and children in Iraq" also came from Bartholomew I, Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, who speaks of "irrational persecution, cultural intolerance and frightening loss of human lives ", caused especially by religious hatred and racial hostility.

In his condemnation, he referred not to the uprooting of a minority but of a "whole civilisation" that cannot be justified before God or on religious grounds. In his appeal to world leaders, including the leaders of Israel and Gaza, he called for "an end to the escalation of conflicts."

Despite such appeals for peace, the situation in Iraq remains critical as the political stalemate of the past few months persists in Baghdad.

Former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has reiterated his intention to appeal to the Federal Court to be allowed to form a new government. By contrast, Fuad Masum, Iraq's (Kurdish) president has already given the task to parliamentary deputy speaker Haidar al-Abadi, a Shia.

The Prime Minister-designate is backed by both United States and Iran, and has received the official support of the highest Shia religious authority in Iraq, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, who in a letter calls for a break with the past and for a government able to unite the country.

However, forming a new government will take time and no quick fix is likely to settle the crisis.

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