03/03/2006, 00.00
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Chaldean patriarch: "No Christian wants to leave Iraq for good"

The Patriarch Emmanuel III Delly admits the country's plight is "miserable", but says emigration affects Muslims much more: many Christians choose to stay to become peace-builders.

Baghdad (AsiaNews) – The "miserable and tragic" situation of Iraq prompts all Iraqis to long for a safer place, but "practically no Christian wants to leave his country indefinitely" and the phenomenon of migration "has affected Muslims much more". As news of suicide bombings and attacks on the country's religious symbols come one after another, the Chaldean Patriarch, Emmanuel III Delly, said there was no such thing as a disapora of the local Christian community. AsiaNews contacted the patriarch by phone in Baghdad, where a curfew is in force today, a day of prayer, to avoid violence.

Delly admitted that "many emigrate because of the very serious situation in which each and every one, starting from myself, lives, and which seems to have deteriorated in recent weeks… This is about both Christians and Muslims, but the phenomenon affects the latter much more." At the same time, the patriarch warned: "We should not exaggerate."

He said "many Christians simply choose to go north, which is safer, to their villages of origin, where perhaps they have a house or relatives. They leave Baghdad or Bassora and stay away for around two weeks or a month, waiting for the tension in their cities to subside, and then they return and start to work again."

According to the patriarch, "the existence of Christian emigrants is undeniable: many search for shelter in Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon, while others join relatives in the USA and in Europe. Everyone wants to find a safer place, but practically no one wants to leave his country indefinitely, for example, by asking for political asylum in the United States." (Requesting political asylum implies the impossibility of returning to one's country of origin).

The representative of the Iraqi Church is convinced that "attacks under way in Iraq are not against Christians as such, the situation is generally tragic for all and perhaps more among Muslims".

"The situation is miserable and difficult but it is so for all Iraqis," he emphasised. For this reason, continued Delly, as "leader of the country's Christians, I defend my community and at the same time, I seek to work for peace, to find a path for reconciliation". And the same commitment is expressed also by his followers:

"Many come to me, with the intention of becoming builders of peace in the country, refuting the fear which prompts them to leave. We must defend freedom and chaos is not freedom."

At the end of January, in a meeting for Christian religious leaders in the north, the "general situation of danger for the community" was highlighted. Exact statistics about Christian migration from Iraq are not available. Some religious representatives say that from August to October 2004, between 10,000 and 40,000 Christians left Iraq. In all, the Christian community adds up to around 800,000 people.

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