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Iraq - Update Newsletter from Barnabas Fund

30 April 2008

...in Iraq

The situation of Iraqi Christians is becoming more and more pressing. On 5 April a prominent Christian leader, Yousif Adil Abbodi, was assassinated in a drive-by shooting in Baghdad. He had received several death threats before.

Iraqi Christian refugees in Syria tell their stories

Christine, a young woman from Mosul, got married on 18 February 2006. Only five months after their wedding, her husband and his brother were killed by Islamic extremists, on 12 August 2006. On the day of the funeral, Christine’s father received a phone call. The caller told him: “You have a son? He is a church warden. His name is Sargam. Either you prepare $70,000 or we will kidnap and kill him.” The family fled to Damascus in Syria. When they sought asylum in a Western country, they were turned down.

Mr Toma from the Dora district of Baghdad owned a restaurant in the city. On 5 June 2006, when driving back from the restaurant, he and his two sons were stopped by two cars driven by masked men. The men forced Mr Toma and his sons to get out of the car; they separated them and took the sons with them. They told Mr Toma to “go and get $300,000”.

After the day of the kidnapping, the family received several phone calls, threatening that if they did not provide the money, they could pick up their sons’ bodies from the morgue.

The mother recounts: “They insulted us and said, you are criminals, you are Christians, you are traitors, you help the Americans... you don’t deserve to live.” Both sons were murdered. The family fled to Syria. Their applications for asylum to the US and to Australia were rejected.

Source: www.wheregodweeps.org

Whenever a church leader is attacked or killed in Iraq, the whole Christian community feels it is being threatened because of their Christian faith. Together with the church bombings in January and the death of Iraqi Archbishop Paulos Farah Rahho, who was kidnapped on 29 February and found dead two weeks later, this murder sends out a powerful message to the small remnant of Iraqi Christians and to those Christians who have fled the country: they are to leave and not to return.

Overcrowding, poverty and dire living conditions are often the lot of those refugees who manage to reach the safety of neighbouring countries such as Syria and Jordan. While the Iraqi government reports that the number of refugees returning from Syria is increasing, the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) denies this. Rather, according to the UNHCR, there are still an estimated 60,000 Iraqis who are being forced to leave their homes every month because of continuing violence. Also, around two-thirds of those who do return do so only because they are unable to find work or because their residency permit cannot be renewed. Especially for Christian refugees, returning to Iraq means returning to persecution and sometimes even death. The few Christians who have dared to return find things are still worse for them in Iraq than in the country they had fled to.

...in the West

A small proportion of Iraqi Christians have found refuge in Western countries such as Sweden, the most welcoming European country for Iraqi refugees. From 2003 to 2007 Sweden has granted full refugee status to almost 25,000 Iraqi refugees, many of them Christians. This figure stands in stark contrast to only 260 Iraqi refugees who were granted refugee status in the UK in the same time period; another 2,680 Iraqi refugees were given leave to remain in the UK. The US only admitted just over 1,600 Iraqis in the fiscal year 2007, remaining well below the initial 7,000 target. However, this year Sweden has started to close its doors to Iraqi refugees as it does not have the capacity to continue helping such a large number. Migration courts decided last year that Iraq was no longer a war zone, which means that asylum is not granted automatically any more. Rather, people have to prove that they are in grave personal danger. The Swedish government has urged the other EU countries and the US to do their part to help alleviate the Iraqi refugee crisis.

How you have helpedMar ’03 - Dec ‘07
Jan ‘08 - May ‘08
Iraqi Christians in Iraq£995,833£70,000£1,065,833
Iraqi Christian refugees in Jordan
and Syria
Total for food and basic needs£1,659,713£154,500£1,814,213

Two Iraqi Christians girls
during the aid distribution in a Syrian refugee area.
Your gifts helped to put a smile on their face

Over recent months, other voices have joined Sweden to exhort Western governments and the European Union to especially acknowledge the desperate situation of Iraqi Christians and take action to help them. When approached with this request, the presidency of the European Union expressed concerns about making decisions on whom to grant refuge based on the person’s faith. Yet it is a fact that a disproportionately high number of Iraqi refugees are Christians who have left Iraq because they have received threats, suffered severe persecution and had family members kidnapped or even killed. It is thought that only about 25% of the formerly 1.5 million Christians are still living in Iraq.

Many of the Iraqi Christian refugees who manage to reach the safety of Syria require medical assistance. Part of your gift is used to help with medical needs

How your gifts help

Churches in Syria and Jordan continue to distribute food parcels and also money for heating fuel and medicine to the many Iraqi Christian refugees who had to flee their homeland in fear of their lives. During a distribution on 23 March in one of the refugee areas of Syria, the church leader encouraged the refugees and explained the source of the gifts: “The source of donations is not oil money or such a thing. It is from your Christian sisters and brothers from all over the world”. All the refugees prayed together and gave thanks to God for His blessings and for the supporters of Barnabas Fund. Many of the Iraqi Christians feel isolated and forgotten by the Western world and the Church. Therefore, experiencing that their brothers and sisters around the world care for them means so much to these Iraqi Christian refugees.

Iraqi Christian families who have fled to northern Iraq receive chicks and sheep to help them earn a living

Many Christian refugees from cities such as Basra and Baghdad have fled to the Nineveh Plain in northern Iraq, an area that enjoys relative stability and peace, even though Turkey launched a series of attacks against Kurdish militants in this region at the beginning of 2008, which forced hundreds of civilians to flee. While their lives are not constantly in danger anymore, these Christians now need to find ways to support themselves and their families. One way to do this is to rear and keep livestock. In one area of the Nineveh Plains where Barnabas Fund is helping to support Iraqi Christian refugees through a church, almost 300 Christian families received either 40 chicks or four sheep to help them start to earn a living.