The news arriving from Iraq of violence and religious discrimination, leading to the flight of tens of thousands of Christians from the north of the country, has created a tragedy which has assumed humanitarian proportions.
Over 200,000 have fled in recent weeks due to the advances of IS, the self declared islamic states of Syria and the Levant. Latest information from the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) reports that the majority of the refugees belong to religious minorities. The UN mission described the situation in northern Iraq as ‘desperate’, a ‘humanitarian tragedy’, ‘a matter of life and death.’
In the last hours the conflict has intensified around Qaraqosh, the main Christian city in Iraq. Its surrounding areas have been overrun by militants of the self-proclaimed Islamic caliphate. The Chaldean Patriach, Louis Sako, who heads the largest Christian church in Iraq, confirms: ‘In these days, 100,000 Christians have fled on foot in the clothes they stand up in, heading towards Kurdistan. It is a humanitarian disaster: the churches have been occupied and their crosses torn down.’
This morning, Pope Francis added his condemnation of the tragedy, calling on the international community do more to exert pressure and bring the persecution and the humanitarian drama to an end.
Almost the entire Christian community in the area of Mosul has been forced to leave their homeland, where they had continued the tradition of one of the oldest Christian communities.
The Grand Master of the Sovereign Order of Malta, Fra’ Matthew Festing, has declared his ‘deep and serious concern’ at the events in recent days. In declaring it an ‘unacceptable persecution of the Faith,’ he has requested the members and volunteers of the Order of Malta to pray for the Iraqi people and for an end to violence and religious discrimination.
In the small village of Karamless, 20 kilometres north of Mosul, Malteser International, the Order of Malta’s international relief agency, has been providing free healthcare in a hastily improvised medical clinic in a building owned by the Chaldean Church. Because of the internally displaced persons (IDPs), fleeing in their thousands from the armed conflicts and death threats, the Christian community there had been growing. Today, in the face of the IS militants’ advance, the medical centre has been forced to close.
A team from Malteser International is assessing the situation with a view to seeking to augment its humanitarian activities in the region.