Iraqi Christians Abandoned By Cameron Over Immigration Fears, Says Church Of England

Iraqi Christians Abandoned By Cameron Over Immigration Fears, Says Church Of England

The Church of England has slammed the Government for abandoning Christians in the Middle East, citing fears that any offers of asylum would cost the Tories points against Ukip and the anti-immigration movement.

In a strongly-worded attack on David Cameron's handling of the crisis in Iraq - backed by the Archbishop of Canterbury - the Bishop of Leeds said "many" senior clergy were seriously concerned.

The Rt Rev Nicholas Baines has written to the Prime Minister questioning whether there is any long-term strategy and criticising a "growing silence" over the fate of the plight of persecuted Christians. In particular he raised questions about ministers' failure to respond to calls - including through parliamentary questions - to set out what arrangements would be made to offer asylum in the UK.

Iraqi Christian children, who fled with their families the violence in Iraq's largest Christian town of Qaraqosh, pose in a room of Ainkawa's Saint Joseph church

"Despite appalling persecution, they seem to have fallen from consciousness, and I wonder why," he said. "Does your government have a coherent response to the plight of these huge numbers of Christians whose plight appears to be less regarded than that of others? Or are we simply reacting to the loudest media voice at any particular time?"

Decrying the lack of response to repeated appeals for asylum provision to be made for Christians, and other minorities, he said that in contrast to France and Germany there had "so far been only silence from the UK Government".

And he expressed fears over the future of the Government's "commitment to religious freedom". The cleric said he recognised "the complexity and interconnectedness of the challenges" but joined criticism of an apparent failure to respond effectively to the advance of Islamic State fighters.

"It appears that, in common with the United States and other partners, the UK is responding to events in a reactive way, and it is difficult to discern the strategic intentions behind this approach," he wrote in the letter, which he issued to newspapers and published on his website.

"Please can you tell me what is the overall strategy that holds together the UK Government's response to both the humanitarian situation and what IS is actually doing in Syria and Iraq?

"Behind this question is the serious concern that we do not seem to have a coherent or comprehensive approach to Islamist extremism as it is developing across the globe.

"Islamic State, Boko Haram and other groups represent particular manifestations of a global phenomenon, and it is not clear what our broader global strategy is - particularly insofar as the military, political, economic and humanitarian demands interconnect."

The Church internationally should be "a primary partner in addressing this complexity", he told him. The bishop welcomed the "notable and admirable" focus on the plight of the minority Yazidi community, who have been at the centre of an international aid operation as they flee IS massacres.

"However, there has been increasing silence about the plight of tens of thousands of Christians who have been displaced, driven from cities and homelands, and who face a bleak future," he went on.

Christians in Iraq

House of Lords questions on the subject tabled by the Bishop of Coventry remain unanswered, he said, "something that causes me and colleagues some concern".

"Underlying these concerns is the need for reassurance that a commitment to religious freedom will remain a priority for the Government, given the departure of ministers who championed this. Will the Foreign Secretary's Human Rights Advisory Panel continue under the new Foreign Secretary?

"Is this not the time to appoint an Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom - which would demonstrate the Government's serious commitment to developing an overarching strategy (backed by expertise) against Islamist extremism and violence?"

The Bishop of Manchester, the Right Rev David Walker, said the Government had a "moral obligation that it is repeatedly failing to rise to". He told BBC Radio 4's Sunday programme that he believed the failure to offer asylum could be down to political sensitivities over immigration.

"There is always a concern around anything that could play into the debate around immigration," he said. "But the numbers that would come here are so small that effectively they are not going to disrupt British society in any noticeable or meaningful way. In fact they would be good assets to our society."

If the Government failed to act then Parliament should be recalled to debate the issue, he suggested. "But the issues are fairly clear. The Government needs to act."

A social media campaign to draw attention to the plight of Christians in Iraqi has seen many high-profile religious leaders, including the Archbishop of Canterbury, change their Twitter profile pictures to a snap of the Arabic 'N', which symbolises 'Christian', and using the hashtag #WeAreN. It has been daubed on houses by militants to identify where Christians lived in captured cities, but Christians worldwide have expressed a desire to "reclaim" the symbol.


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