France ready to offer asylum to Iraqi Christians

(AP)
In this 13 June 2014 photo, an Iraqi refugee girl from Mosul stands outside her family's tent at Khazir refugee camp outside Irbil, 217 miles (350 kilometres) north of Baghdad, Iraq.

France announced on Monday that it will offer asylum to those forced to flee Iraq as the Islamic State (IS) continues to tighten its grip across the country.

Referring to the thousands of Christians and other religious minorities persecuted by extremist Sunnis, the Foreign and Interior ministers, Laurent Fabius and Bernard Cazeneuve, said in a statement that France is "outraged by these abuses that it condemns with the utmost firmness."

"We are ready, if they so desire, to help facilitate asylum on our territory," the statement said.

Despite the historic significance of Chrisianity in Iraq, members of the faith have been driven from their homes as the Islamist militants have declared a caliphate in parts of Syria and Iraq.

The nation's second largest city, Mosul, was virtually emptied of Christians on July 18 after warnings rang out from the city's mosques, telling Christians to leave, pay a tax, convert to Islam or face 'death by the sword'.

Hundreds of families fled, and if any remain, they are in hiding.

"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," Fabius and Cazenueve added.

Former Bishop Geoffrey Rowell, writing in a letter to the the Times, said the activities of IS were "savage" and "chilling". Former UK Ambassador to the Holy See, Francis Campbell, has condemned the events as a form of "ethnic cleansing".

"A culture and civilisation is being destroyed and our political leaders are silent," Campbell recently tweeted.

The British government has not yet released any information on its own policy regarding Iraqi refugees, but a spokesperson for the UK Foreign Office told The Tablet: "The threat to Christians in the Mosul area is a particular tragedy, given that it has one of the oldest Christian communities in the world".

The spokesman confirmed that the government will work with Iraqi officials to "raise these matters further".

In 2003, there were around 1.5 million Christians living in Iraq. There are now thought to be less than 200,000.

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