Bishops' Middle East tour highlights plight of Iraqi refugees

Bishops on a solidarity tour of the Middle East will highlight the suffering of Iraqi Christians today as they travel the region to raise awareness of "forgotten Christians".

Many displaced Iraqi Christians who fled from ISIS militants in Mosul, remain within Iraq in the city of IrbilReuters

The international group of mainly Catholic bishops will draw attention to the plight of Iraqi Christian communities, 18 months after fleeing ISIS in Mosul. More than 80,000 Christians fled the city and the Ninevah Plain after threats of forced conversion or execution.

The group is a mix of denominations and nationalities who arrived in Amman, Jordan, on Sunday night after visiting Gaza and the West Bank. One South African member of the Vatican backed group, the Archbishop of Capetown, said the Israeli army's "intimidation" and "show of force" had reminded him of apartheid, according to the Independent.

The sole Anglican member of the group said he had been deeply impressed and encouraged by the resilience of Gazans.

"There is a danger that Israel will become its own worst enemy because... it will compound bitterness with resentment", said Christopher Chessun, the Bishop of Southwark.

The other British members of the group are expected to use the tour as another opportunity to call on David Cameron to welcome more than the 20,000 Syrian refugees promised to be settled in the UK by 2020.

Chessun said he was "fully signed up" to the bishops' request for the total to be raised to at least 50,000 "because we have the capacity to do it".

"The Christian and other faith communities have the means to offer... virtuous circles of hospitality, support and encouragement and help with [the refugees'] integration in the life of our nation," he said.

The group leader, Catholic Bishop of Clifton, Declan Lang, joined a chorus of other Christian leaders as he acknowledged his "worry" that Christians could be unintentionally discriminated against by the UK's refugee resettlement scheme. Christians are housed by local churches, not UN camps because they are afraid of persecution, a number of church leaders have said. This means they will miss out on the chance of coming to the UK as they are not under the UN refugee scheme.

However Bishop Lang said a bigger concern was the "almost halving" of sympathy for refugees after the Paris attacks. He said that European attitudes had hardened since the November atrocities and that "we must resist that temptation".