07/01/2010, 00.00
IRAQ
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Mgr Sako: security for Christians. Baghdad asks not to accept asylum applications

Division among the Christian communities augments the drama of the faithful. Requests for programs to facilitate the return of refugees. The Immigration Minister asks the EU, U.S., Australia to reject asylum applications by Christians.

Baghdad (AsiaNews) - Christian leaders in Iraq, concerned about the outward flow of faithful who leave the country, are asking the government better protection for minorities, while Baghdad is calling on Western countries not accept asylum applications from refugees of minorities. The idea is to discourage their departures, but the real solution of the problem lies in the assurance of security and basic services to the population, which are still lacking.

On 26 June, 76 representatives of various Christian denominations in Iraq gathered in Qaraqosh - in the north, near Mosul - to take stock of the plight of communities afflicted by persecution and emigration. Religious leaders and politicians have appealed to the authorities, demanding greater protection for minorities, respect for human rights and a greater number of Christian representatives in national and local institutions. Among the demands, constitutional amendments to strengthen the rights of Christian minority, funding programs to facilitate the return of refugees, the establishment of a National Commission for Minority Affairs to promote peaceful dialogue between ethnic and religious groups and increased investment in infrastructure and the most underdeveloped areas populated by minorities.

The Chaldean archbishop of Kirkuk, Msgr. Louis Sako was also among the participants. The archbishop has reiterated the importance that "Christians do not leave Iraq, but witness their faith to their country." At the same time, however, he has highlighted some challenges which need to be urgently addressed by Christian leaders, instead of waiting for political intervention. First of all, the internal divisions in the community: "We are small churches that need to unify our voices. So far there has been no common position on migration. This is a shame and an obstacle. We will remain divided as long as we look only to our personal interests: money and power. We will remain vulnerable until our differences only represent conflicts. We are lacking collective action, "said Msgr. Sako.

During the meeting, Al-Athil Najifi, governor of Nineveh Province - where most Christians are concentrated - has announced his commitment to preventing the exploitation of minorities and establishing a mechanism for inclusion of all elements of civil society.

The central government is also concerned about the high levels of emigration. So far however, they have failed to develop any real policy to encourage returns or increases the level of security. The latest initiative was announced on June 23 by Iraqi Minister of Immigration, Abdel Sultan: Baghdad has asked the European Union, U.S. and Australia to reject asylum claims from Iraqi Christians who come from minority groups.

The idea is to discourage departures in order to "preserve the ethnic and religious diversity of the country." This has provoked the immediate protest of the Iraqi Human Rights organisation: "It is a violation of the Iraqi Constitution, which guarantees the right of the individual to live anywhere they choose, and universal human rights," said the president Hasan Shabaan. (LYR)

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