France offers haven to Christians facing 'extinction' in Iraq
France has offered asylum to the thousands of Christians driven from their homes by the threat of the Islamist State jihadist group currently rampaging through much of Iraq.
The offer was made in a joint statement by Laurent Fabius, the foreign minister, and Bernard Cazeneuve, the interior minister, who said they were shocked by the persecution of the minority.
"France is outraged by these abuses that it condemns with the utmost firmness," the statement said. "We are ready, if they so desire, to help facilitate asylum on our territory."
The flight of Christians in the face of Islamic State was described at the weekend by the vicar of Baghdad's Anglican church, Canon Andrew White, as bringing "the end of Christianity very near" in Iraq. "Things are so desperate, our people are disappearing," he said to BBC Radio Four. "We have had people massacred, their heads chopped off."
In 2003, before the allied invasion, there were about a million Christians, if not more, in Iraq. About three-quarters have since left amid the civil war and targeted attacks by jihadists.
When Islamic State swept through northern Iraq last month and seized Mosul, the second biggest city, they declared that Christians remaining there must convert, pay a special tax, the jizya, or face the sword. Thousands have fled into neighbouring Kurdistan.
They had painted the Arabic letter "N" for "Nazarene" on the houses of known Christians.
"The ultimatum given to these communities in Mosul is the latest tragic example of the terrible threat that jihadist groups in Iraq, but also in Syria and elsewhere, pose to these populations," the French ministers' statement said.
Ainkawa in Erbil, capital of the Kurdish regional government, now has one of the country's largest Christian communities, mostly exiles.
Nouri al-Maliki, the Iraqi prime minister, has promised to protect Christians but can do little to help those no longer under government rule and he has shown little sign of being able to reclaim the parts of the country Islamic State has seized.
Western governments have offered aid to countries neighbouring Iraq and Syria such as Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon to help with the millions of refugees of all sects who have headed there, but have been reluctant to offer asylum in their own countries. (© Daily Telegraph, London)