Seven Assyrian Christians drown while fleeing ISIS

Hundreds of thousands of refugees have crossed the Mediterranean this year, many of them fleeing violence at the hands of Islamic State.Reuters/Italian Navy

Seven Assyrian Christians who fled Islamic State in Iraq are among a number to have drowned this week while crossing the Mediterranean.

AINA reports that the seven were from two Assyrian families, and were travelling across the Aegean Sea to Greece when their boat capsized on November 17.

The news agency identified them as Stephen Marzena and Silbana Sami Marogeh, their two children Angie and Mark, Samah Sami Marogeh (Silvana's sister) and her two children Haneen Salem Saman and Marvin.

They, along with around 50,000 fellow Assyrians, had fled their hometown of Qaraqosh, which was captured by ISIS militants in August last year. Kurdish troops withdrew from the town on August 6 2014, leaving militants free to move in overnight and take four Christian-majority towns, less than a month after the group overran nearby Mosul.

Qaraqosh had been home to Iraq's largest Christian community, with at least a quarter of the country's Christian population living in the city and its surrounding towns. Its exodus prompted further concerns about the future of Christianity in the Middle East, and calls for the international community to open their borders to those fleeing persecution.

The refugee crisis has been high on the agenda this week, as countries debate whether to continue to accept those fleeing violence in Iraq and Syria following concerns that ISIS militants may be among them.

Yesterday, the US House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly to suspend Obama's programme to admit 10,000 Syrian refugees in the next year, a decision that has been met with condemnation by many Christians.

Today, the head of the Catholic Church in England and Wales said it was vital to remember that "the majority of refugees are victims not perpetrators of violence".

Speaking at a press conference in London, Cardinal Vincent Nichols added: "We should not cast the mischief made by a tiny number of people across the shoulders of people who are desperate and themselves victims of terrible violence."