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Solidarity visitors to Iraq report on urgent needs of Iraqi refugees

19 December 2014


Displaced: Iraqi children pray during mass at St Joseph's Cathedral in Ankawa, Irbil, on 6 December. Pope Francis addressed the crowd via a recorded message, on video screens. He thanked Iraqi Christians for their courage 

Displaced: Iraqi children pray during mass at St Joseph's Cathedral in Ankawa, Irbil, on 6 December. Pope Francis addressed the crow...

THE most urgent need for the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis who have been forced to flee their homes in the face of Islamic State (IS) advances is housing, shelter, and food, a report by the Vicar of St John's, Notting Hill, Canon William Taylor, says.

Canon Taylor and the former Bishop in Europe, Dr Geoffrey Rowell, visited northern Iraq last week in a gesture of solidarity at the request of the Archbishop of Canterbury. The visit arose out of a day that the Archbishop had hosted at Lambeth Palace in September, for representatives of Christian communities from the Middle East, especially those from Iraq and Syria ( News, 5 September).

The visit was hosted by Archbishop Bashar Warda, of the Chaldean Catholic Church, who is working in Irbil, in the Kurdish region of northern Iraq, with an ecumenical team from the Assyrian (Church of the East), Syrian Catholic, Syrian Orthodox, and Protestant Churches. Canon Taylor described the work of the church leadership and volunteers as "inspirational, as they care for approximately 120,000 internally displaced people" (IDPs). The Kurdistan Regional Government estimates that the region is currently providing shelter and refuge for 1.2 million IDPs.

Canon Taylor said that the need for shelter arose because, when the people of Mosul fled the IS in August, "they had no option but to live under trees, and in any shelter they could find from the 40° heat. The next stage was to set up tent centres for those who were living on streets and in the open. This happened quickly, thanks to the leadership of the local churches and NGOs, supported by the major international charities - UNHCR, Save the Children, Oxfam, Kirche In Not (Aid to the Church in Need), and others."

Now, as winter sets in, these tents "are no longer appropriate, and have been almost entirely replaced by Portakabins".

Canon Taylor described the care operation provided for IDPs as "deeply impressive: of the four bishops who lead it, three are internally displaced people themselves, as they had been working in Mosul.

"The quality and dedication of the clergy and religious leaders we met was inspirational, as was the commitment and care of the hundreds of volunteers who are working with them. We met no one who regarded the work as somebody else's problem."

Canon Taylor described the ecumenical efforts of the Churches as "among the most impressive I have seen anywhere in the world; and this inspired and energised me. The churches work hand in hand with NGOs and other charities, are highly efficient and organised, and know exactly what is happening on the ground in the different centres, and what the needs and issues are."

Welsh support. In a gesture of solidarity with the people of Iraq and Syria, the Church in Wales has joined Welsh representatives of the Muslim and Jewish communities to issue a Christmas message. Faith groups in Wales could not solve the problems of the Middle East, the statement said, but they wanted to send "a message of peace and friendship to all people of goodwill in that region. . .

"We hope that by modelling the example of friendship and co-operation that we find here, we can show that it is possible for different faiths to live together in peace, and work together for the good of all members of society."

The statement ended: "At this time of the Christian celebration of the birth of the Prince of Peace, we want to show that faith can bring people together, not tear them apart."

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