France Offers Asylum to Iraq’s Fleeing Christians

Barbara Boland
By Barbara Boland | July 30, 2014 | 9:43 AM EDT

The government of France has offered asylum to Iraqi Christians forced to flee after the Islamic State seized northern Iraq and told Christians in Mosul to "convert to Islam, or leave the city," reports AFP.

"France is outraged by these abuses that it condemns with the utmost firmness," said Laurent Fabius, France's Foreign Minister, and Bernard Cazeneuve, the Interior Minister, in a joint statement (translated by Al Jazeera) Monday.

"The ultimatum given to these communities in Mosul by ISIL is the latest tragic example of the terrible threat that jihadist groups in Iraq, but also in Syria and elsewhere, pose to these populations that are historically an integral part of this region.

"We are ready, if they wish, to facilitate their asylum on our soil.

"We are in constant contact with local and national authorities to ensure everything is done to protect them," both ministers said.

Iraq, and particularly the city of Mosul, has traditionally been home to the world's most ancient and longstanding Christian communities for almost 2,000 years. "While an estimated two million Christians called Iraq home in the 1990s, church leaders say that figure plunged to around 200,000 by last year," International Business Times reported.

Today, just 20 families remain in Mosul, according to the U.N. Compare that with 2003's total of 60,000 Christians.

Desperate Christians are trapped in the desert or on the streets with nowhere to go, Canon Andrew White told BBC Radio 4Today.

Christians have been forced unceremoniously out of their homes and are staying in refugee camps further to the south.

The International Business Times reports:

When the Sunni extremists came forcing their way into his house to kill [seventy-year-old Christian Yacub,] his Muslim neighbours pleaded with the rebels to spare him.

"All the people in my neighbourhood were Muslim. They came to help me - about 20 people - at the door in front of my house. They tried to convince Isis not to kill me."

They spared him but took away his ID card and threw him out of his house.

Most of [the Christians] have similar tales of terror to tell, of being booted away unceremoniously from their homes, looted to the last dinar by ISIS agents. Young girls, old women, all have been subjected to the same treatment.

Christians have fled to refugee camps in southern Iraq. The camps are short of power and water, and may prove only a temporary respite, as ISIS is believed to be headed there next.