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Agencies urged to recognise needs of religious minorities

02 December 2016


A woman wipes her tears during a ceremony in the Saint George church in Bashiqa, east of Mosul, Iraq

A woman wipes her tears during a ceremony in the Saint George church in Bashiqa, east of Mosul, Iraq

HUMANITARIAN responses to the conflicts in Syria and Iraq must take into account the diversity and diverse needs of minority com­mun­ities, or “run the risk of building walls instead of bridges”, the World Council of Churches (WCC) and Norwegian Church Aid (NCA) have warned in a new report.

The Protection Needs of Minorities from Syria and Iraq, published on Monday, advises against a “one-size-fits-all funding approach” from aid agencies, which, it says, can inad­vertently exclude vulnerable minor­ities, including religious groups. “A pair of shoes is necessary, but not all shoes fit all feet,” the general sec­­retaries of NCA and WCC, Anne-Marie Nørstelien Helland and Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, said in a joint statement. “The same applies to aid.”

Informed by interviews with 4000 displaced people and refugees from Syria and Iraq, the report, funded by the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, reviews the history, conse­quences, and responses to the con­flicts there, before listing 18 recom­mendations. These include offering equal support and funding for men, women, and children, and to those returning home as well as to the internationally displaced.

It suggests that, while most hu­­manitarian agencies understand the implications of age, gender, and diversity when distributing aid in conflict zones, protecting minorities must also be properly considered. Attitudes to reconciliation, for example, or the desire to flee and resettle, vary between Muslims, Chris­tians, and Yazidis, relative to the suffering endured.

”Given the history of persecution and conflict experienced by religious minorities, future reconciliation and peaceful relationships between differ­ent faith groups requires dealing with the trauma and suffering of the past,” the report says.

”It also requires facilitating and sharing positive and hopeful exam­ples of coexistence and mutual support between people of different faiths.”

Another report, from the charity Minorities Rights Group Inter­national, suggested that minority communities in Iraq were “on the verge of disappearance”, and “in­­creas­­­ingly losing their sense of belonging” in the country (News, 12 August).

A survey of displaced minorities and refugees in Lebanon, conducted by the NCA for the report, suggested that “differences between religious groups have intensified, to the extent that they may now be irreconcilable, and make life back at home dif­ficult.” Christian refugees from Iraq “were adamant that there would be no possibility of returning, even in the absence of IS [Islamic State]”, it says.

”The sense of their sudden betrayal by Muslim neighbours and friends — and the trauma that min­ority communities have suffered, and continue to suffer, in Iraq — means that minorities who fled to neighbouring countries had few plans to return.”

The WCC and NCA report is available at www.oikoumene.org.

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