We have all watched with shock and sorrow the terrible injustices facing Christian and other communities in Iraq.
Over the last few months we have supported a massive humanitarian programme for Syrian refugees in northern Iraq, Lebanon and Jordan and now our Church partners in Lebanon are doing everything they can do to support Iraqi Christians as they flee the country.
In addition to offering technical staff to our sister agencies within the Caritas network who are mobilising a major response in Northern Iraq, we have committed £25,000 to our Caritas partners in Iraq so that they can respond to the plight of Iraqis forced from their homes.
This money will be used to support the urgent needs of families who now find themselves living in schools, public buildings, churches and mosques.
While gaining access to the affected communities continues to be the greatest challenge for the humanitarian and relief agencies, we remain in close contact with our partners in Iraq and across the region, assessing the changing situation and taking their advice on where we can best provide support.
Working under dangerous conditions, one of our Church partners sent this short report describing the deteriorating situation:
“After the occupation of Mosul by the armed militants two months ago, these groups started moving from Mosul. They reached Qaraqosh – the largest Christian area in the northern region – Bartella and other Christian villages in Nineveh plain in addition to occupying Zummar, Tal Afar and other areas.
“The families we spoke to from these areas told us that they were forced to flee towards the three governorates of Kurdistan, Erbil, Duhok and Sulaymaniya.
“It is difficult to move around because of the insecurity. But staff and volunteers are doing all they can to coordinate with the Churches and their clergy.”
The Islamic State – formerly the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant – has made sweeping advances across Iraq, targeting civilians.
According to the UN Assistance Mission in Iraq – UNAMI – to date an estimated 200,000 people have fled the advance of IS, with at least 180,000 having crossed into Dohuk district of the Kurdistan Region.
What you and your parish can do
We encourage Catholics across England and Wales to follow Cardinal Vincent Nichols’ call for the ‘protection of all communities’, ‘long term security’, and to pray for peace.
“It is imperative that the international community ensure the physical protection of all communities in Iraq, their human rights including the right to religious freedom. I urge Her Majesty’s Government to lead the efforts in the face of such a human calamity in order to help restore these shattered communities, provide them with urgent humanitarian aid and work with others to ensure their long terms security in the land of their birth.
“I encourage our own Catholic community to continue to give generously to our agencies working to support the people of Iraq. Above all I invite all people of faith to turn to God in prayer this weekend and seek for our world the change of heart and the gift of grace that alone can bring us peace.”