THE CAPTURE on Thursday of the northern Iraqi town of
Qaraqosh by Islamic State (IS) fighters, and the subsequent flight
of thousands of Christians northwards to Kurdish-controlled
territory, dealt another serious blow to Middle Eastern
Christianity and have helped to elevate the Iraq crisis to a
The United States' President, Barack Obama, on
Thursday night authorised the use of air strikes against IS forces
to protect both Christians and thousands of Yazidis trapped on
Mount Sinjar. The Yazidis, a small minority community whose
religion incorporates beliefs and traditions from a variety of
faiths, face starvation if help fails to arrive soon.
Mr Obama said that IS had "called for the systematic
destruction of the entire Yazidi people, which would constitute
genocide. So these innocent people are faced with a horrible
choice: descend the mountain and be slaughtered, or stay and slowly
die of thirst and hunger." He said that the Islamists had been
"especially barbaric towards religious minorities, including
Christians and Yazidis." Air strikes would also be used to halt an
IS advance towards the Kurdish city of Irbil where American
diplomatic staff are based, Mr Obama said.
In a statement on Friday, the Archbishop of Canterbury
said that IS was "violat[ing] brutally people's right to freedom of
religion and belief".
He added: "We must not forget that this is part of
an evil pattern around the world where Christians and other
minorities are being killed and persecuted for their faith." Human
rights abuses must be documented and prosecuted, and countries in
the West, including the UK, should take in refugees, Archbishop
Horror stories of violent persecution of Christians
was going on elsewhere, he added, citing Syria, South Sudan,
Nigeria, and the Central African Republic. "Those suffering
such appalling treatment in Iraq are especially in my prayers at
Canon Andrew White of St George's, Baghdad, speaking to
the BBC on Thursday night from northern Iraq, said that the
international community needed to take seriously the needs of the
Christian community in the country "so they are not left on the
side." Asked if he could envisage a day when he would advise his
own congregation to leave Iraq, Canon White replied: "I have always
said to our people 'I'm not going to leave you, don't you leave
me.' Now I can't say that any longer. If I tell them not to leave
I'm saying: 'You've got to be prepared to die for your
The Roman Catholic Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal
Vincent Nichols, said in a statement on Friday that the Government
should lead efforts to provide humanitarian aid to struggling
minorities in Iraq.
"I have followed with deep sadness the unfolding
disaster," he said. "This is a persecution of immense proportions
... It is imperative that the international community ensure the
physical protection of all communities in Iraq [and] their human
rights including the right to religious freedom."
The events ,of recent days will inevitably mean a further
exodus of Christians from Iraq. Whether or not Britain should offer
sanctuary to some of these refugees remains a matter of contention.
The Bishop of Leeds, Rt Revd Nick Baines, told the Church
Times on Tuesday that he had not yet received a
response from the Government to his appeal that Britain should make
such an offer.
The Bishops of Manchester and of Worcester, Rt Revd David
Walker and Dr John Inge, made similar calls on the Government to
help Iraqi Christians in an Observer article
last Sunday, although the three churchmen are not part of a
Bishop Baines said that he was "not surprised, but
disappointed" at the lack of an official response. He said that the
appeal through the media was only the first step in efforts to
persuade the government to allow some Iraqi Christians to come
here. The next step would involve direct contact with senior
figures, including the Prime Minister.
Asked if it was realistic for the government to allow
Iraqis to enter Britain at a time when immigration is such a
sensitive political topic, Bishop Baines said: "we are being very
careful not to get caught up in the immigration debate. We're not
talking about a huge number. Many will want to stay in Iraq, and
there are already many in the Kurdish areas." The Bishop's view is
that Iraqis coming here could fall under the category of vulnerable
Bishop Baines said that he realised that in speaking out
in this way the Bishops were putting extra pressure on the
Government at a time when it is facing "an impossible task in
trying to deal with appalling situations around the world. But this
is a very particular and serious issue of concern."
In his comments at the weekend, Bishop Baines said: "We
have a tradition of offering sanctuary to people who are oppressed,
and it's part of the Christian heritage of this country and the law
we have established that puts an obligation on
We also have an obligation to at least raise with the
Government the possibility that we should be offering sanctuary to
Christians in Iraq who have been effectively expelled under the
threat of death."
Bishop Walker said: "We would be failing to fulfil our
obligations were we not to offer sanctuary. Having intervened so
recently and extensively in Iraq, we have, even more than other
countries, a moral duty in the UK. Given the vast amounts of money
that we spent on the war in Iraq, the tiny cost of bringing some
people fleeing for their lives to this country and allowing them to
settle - and who, in due course, would be an asset to our
society - would seem to be minuscule."
Bishop Inge told the Observer that
he "would be very disturbed if the Government refused to do
anything. The situation in Iraq is absolutely horrendous. It would
sit very ill at ease with our values if nothing were to be offered.
I am disappointed nothing has transpired so far."
Weeks before the fall of Qaraqosh, an estimated 30,000 Iraqi
Christians fled from Mosul and the surrounding area after large
areas of the country were taken over by Islamists, who later
proclaimed the territory under their control a caliphate.
Christians and other minority religious groups were given the
choice of converting to Islam, paying a protection tax or being put
to the sword (News,
A group of faith leaders in Wales, including Archbishop Dr
Barry Morgan, on Wednesday issued a joint statement condemning IS's
persecution of Christians. "We are concerned," the statement said,
"that places such as Mosul, with a historic Christian population
that represents centuries of peaceful co-existence between
Christians and Muslims, Christians are now fleeing for fear of
their lives. We utterly condemn IS and their violent and
reprehensible actions. Our thoughts and prayers are with the
Christians of Iraq and all those of all faiths in the Middle