Christians ‘fleeing central Iraq’

Memorial at Our Lady of Salvation in BaghdadNearly 70 people died when security forces stormed the church in Baghdad to free dozens of hostages held by militants

The UN refugee agency says thousands of Iraqi Christians are fleeing from central provinces of the country.

They are seeking refuge in the relatively safe Kurdish-controlled region in the north.

The UN High Commission for Refugees said about 1,000 families have left Baghdad and Mosul province since an attack on a church left 68 people dead.

It said the flight of Christians to other parts of Iraq and abroad has become “a slow but steady exodus”.

The UNHCR also said it was dismayed that European governments are deporting failed Iraqi asylum seekers to areas of the country it does not consider safe.


A woman prays in Baghdad's Syrian Catholic Church, days after it was targeted

Aug 2004 – series of bombings targets five churches, killing 11 peopleOctober 2006 – Orthodox priest Fr Boulos Iskander snatched in Mosul by group demanding ransom. Despite payment of the ransom, Fr Iskander was found beheaded and with his limbs amputatedJune 2007 – Fr Ragheed Ganni – a priest and secretary to Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahh, killed in 2008 – shot dead in his church along with three companionsJanuary 2008 – Bombs go off outside three Chaldean and Assyrian churches in Mosul, two churches in Kirkuk and four in BaghdadFebruary 2008 – Chaldean Catholic Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahh kidnapped; body found in shallow grave two weeks laterApril 2008 – Fr Adel Youssef, an Assyrian Orthodox priest, shot dead by unknown assailantsFebruary 2010 – At least eight Christians die in a two-week spate of attacks in northern city of MosulOctober 2010 – Nearly 70 people died when security forces stormed a church in Baghdad to free dozens of hostages held by militantsIraqi Christians’ long history

“UNHCR strongly reiterates its call on countries to refrain from deporting Iraqis who originate from the most perilous parts of the country,” Melissa Fleming, the agency’s chief spokesperson, said.

Nearly 70 people died as security forces stormed a Catholic church in Baghdad to free dozens of hostages on 31 October.

A number of gunmen entered Our Lady of Salvation in the city’s Karrada district during Mass, sparking an hours-long stand-off.

UNHCR offices in Iraq are recording a significant increase in Christians fleeing Baghdad and Mosul for the the Kurdistan Regional Government Region and Nineva region, the UNHCR said.

“We have heard many accounts of people fleeing their homes after receiving direct threats. Some were able to take only a few belongings with them,” Ms Fleming said.

UNHCR offices in Syria, Jordan and Lebanon are reporting a growing number of Iraqi Christians arriving and contacting UNHCR for registration and help.

Churches and non-governmental organisations are warning the refugee agency to expect more people fleeing in the coming weeks.

While overall civilian casualties are lower this year than last, it appears that minority groups are increasingly susceptible to threats and attacks.

This article is from the BBC News website. © British Broadcasting Corporation, The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites.

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