Archbishop of Canterbury says plight of Christians in Middle East is 'acute'

The Archbishop of Canterbury said Christians have 'vanished' from some areas of the Middle East(Photo: BBC)

The Archbishop of Canterbury has warned of the severity of the situation facing Christians in the Middle East ahead of a special service organised by the Prince of Wales.

The service at Westminster Abbey on Tuesday is taking place to encourage persecuted Christians in the Middle East and celebrate the contributions they make to their communities.

Speaking on the Andrew Marr Show, Archbishop Justin Welby said Prince Charles had 'long been committed to the support of Christians in the Middle East'.

The Archbishop said that although Christians in some parts of the region were flourishing, the situation for others was 'acute'.

In Iraq, he said the Christian population had dropped from 10 per cent to around two or three per cent in recent years.

'The plight of Christians there has become more and more acute as the years have gone by,' he said.

'They have vanished in some areas. They've been driven out or they've been killed.

'So it seems a good time as we approach Christmas, this season of Advent, where we're focused on the Middle East, on Bethlehem, to talk about the reality of the situation today.'

Writing in The Telegraph on Sunday, the Archbishop spoke again about the hardships being experienced by Middle Eastern Christians. 

'They need to know they are not forgotten by the world, or treated as an irrelevant minority, a societal optional extra, or even a threat,' he said. 

Christians in Iraq have suffered from years of war and conflict, and most recently the Islamic State's assault on the country.  Many have fled abroad but although some have returned, fears remain.

Muthanna Yaco, who works in real estate in the northern Iraqi city of Qaraqosh, told Aid to the Church in Need that although around 5,000 families have returned, the exodus has not stopped.

'It is also important to put a halt to the emigration of Christians, which is emptying the Middle East of Christians,' he said.

'We must stop emigration and arrange for the return of Christians in the diaspora.

'That is an essential condition for peace-building and our country's success in the long run.'

He said those who had returned were fearful of discrimination and the return of ISIS.

'There is fear that the ISIS will return to our region, perhaps under a different name,' he said.

'That's because of the lack of political unity in Iraq, and Christians have no confidence in their country's political leadership, with legislators looking out for their own interests and discriminating against Christians.

'These conditions may put us in harm's way again.'