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
"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."