CHRISTIANS in Syria and Iraq do not want to be seen as victims but as “equal citizens”, with a protected right to freedom of religion or belief, a report from the anti-persecution charity Open Doors has concluded.
The report, Hope for the Middle East, is the result of eight months of consultation with Christians and church leaders in Syria and Iraq. It was launched at an event in Parliament on Wednesday, hosted by Kate Green MP, as part of a wider campaign to support persecuted Christians in Iraq, Syria, and other Middle Eastern countries.
Christians, the report says, should be able to enjoy “full protection of their right to freedom of religion or belief, including the ability for everyone to freely worship, practise, teach, choose, and change their religion. They are not calling for special privileges as a religious minority.”
Between 50 and 80 per cent of all Christians in Iraq and Syria have been forced to abandon their homelands, it says. Most of these are now Internally Displaced Persons, or have fled over the border to Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, or further afield.
”Their homes, properties, and businesses have been confiscated or destroyed. Of those who remain, many want to play their part in rebuilding the shattered societies of Iraq and Syria.”
The report concludes that the governments of Syria and Iraq have a duty to ensure that the law protects the rights of citizens “irrespective of race, religion or other status”, and that living conditions are improved for all inhabitants of the countries — “especially for returning refugees, and the internally displaced”.
It also suggests that the authorities “identify and equip” religious leaders and faith organisations to better support the rebuilding of Syrian and Iraqi societies.
The chief executive of Open Doors, Lisa Pearce, said: “Christians in Syria and Iraq have clearly stated that they do not want to be seen as victims, and that they believe they have a vital role to play in the rebuilding of their countries and in the future of the Middle East. . . Many are hopeful this will happen, but they need help to achieve this goal.”
In tandem with the report, Open Doors is also asking supporters to sign its worldwide petition calling on all governments to give Christians and other minorities the “right to equal citizenship, dignified living conditions, and a role in reconciliation and rebuilding society”. It will be presented to the UN in June next year.