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MPs hear from Aleppo-born Christian

12 October 2016

MPs hear from Aleppo-born Christian

On 12 October dozens of MPs and peers attended the launch of the Hope for the Middle East report in parliament, highlighting the desire of Christians in Syria and Iraq to be able to stay in their countries with equality, dignity and responsibility.

The launch was hosted by Kate Green MP, former Shadow Minister for Women and Equalities, and those in attendance also heard from Rami*, a Syrian Christian and Open Doors field worker, and Baroness Anelay, Minister of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office with additional responsibility for the Department for International Development, as well as CEO of Open Doors UK & Ireland Lisa Pearce.

If you invited your MP to this event, thank you very much - over 2,600 people did and we know it makes a difference!

Now that we've called on the UK government to act on behalf of persecuted Christians and other minorities in the Middle East, help us ask the same of the UN in June 2017. We want to have a million signatures to take to the UN in support of Christians and minorities in Syria and Iraq. If you haven't already, please sign the One Million Voices petition, and if you have, please ask others to sign it too - we won't reach a million without your help!

UK government commits to protect freedom of religion and belief

Kate Green opened the meeting, saying that she is often contacted by her constituents about international freedom of religion and belief. Open Doors first met Kate Green at the launch of our 2016 World Watch List, where she attended thanks to invitations from her constituents - proving that when you speak out, it really does make a difference!

Baroness Anelay then spoke on the role the UK government plays in defending freedom of religion and belief internationally, including within Syria and Iraq. "We raise individual cases; we challenge discriminatory legislation and practices; and we support projects across the world that promote people's fundamental rights," she said.

The Baroness works both in the Foreign Commonwealth Office (FCO) and at the Department for International Development and has, in her FCO role, declared a particular concern for freedom of religion and belief. "It is important that victims of persecution know they are not alone; and it is equally important that governments and non-state actors know that we will not tolerate or condone violations of fundamental rights," she said. "The UK Government remains committed to promoting and protecting [freedom of religion and belief]."

Christian presence 'key for the future of the Middle East'

Those attending then heard from Rami*, a Syrian Christian and an Open Doors field worker. He was born and raised in Aleppo, and although he no longer lives in Syria, he travels regularly to the Middle East, and across Europe and the US making the case for persecuted Christians and advocating for their rights. He did some of the research that informs the Hope for the Middle East report, interviewing Syrian and Iraqi Christians on their experiences and hopes for the future.

He spoke of the key role that Christians have played historically in the Middle East, and described how they do not see themselves as a minority in their countries, but as citizens with a valuable contribution to make; many of his friends in Syria have the option to leave but are choosing to stay.

Rami also spoke of the vital reconciliation work that Christians are doing in Syria and Iraq on a local level, including negotiating small scale ceasefires with local rebel groups, and how his church in Aleppo is doing reconciliation work with Muslims. "The continuing presence of Christians and minorities is key for the future of the Middle East," he said.

Finally, Lisa Pearce, CEO of Open Doors UK & Ireland, outlined the findings of the Hope for the Middle East report, showing that Christians in Syria and Iraq are asking for equality, dignity and responsibility. She urged those present to take action on behalf of Christians and other minorities in Syria and Iraq. "All that is any of our responsibility is to do what is within our power to do. As parliamentarians you have more power than most," she said.

The report, entitled Hope for the Middle East: The impact and significance of the Christian presence in Syria and Iraq: past, present and future is available to download.

*name changed for security reasons

MPs who attended

We are delighted at the number of MPs who came, particularly given that the planned launch clashed with a debate on Britain's exit from the EU. Below, you can see a list of all the MPs we registered as being present, but we may well have missed a few on the day.

If your MP is on the list, you may wish to thank them for coming. But, if your MP is not on this list, please don't assume this shows a lack of interest - however, it would be great if you could write to them to tell them about the event and send a copy of the report. You can send the report by copying and pasting these links below:

Executive summary and recommendations: http://www.opendoorsuk.org/h4me-briefing

The full report http://www.opendoorsuk.org/campaign/documents/H4ME-report.pdf

MPs and Peers who attended:
Tom Brake MPJulian Brazier MPFiona Bruce MP
David Burrowes MPGeoffrey Clifton-Brown MPKevin Foster MP
Philip Hollobone MPJohn Glen MPKate Green MP
Sir Alan Haselhurst MPLady Sylvia Hermon MPGeorge Howarth MP
Dr Alasdair McDonnell MPGreg Mulholland MPPenny Mordaunt MP
Caroline Nokes MPDavid Rutley MPJim Shannon MP
Hugo Swire MPDerek Twigg MPMartin Vickers MP
Theresa Villiers MPNadhim Zahawi MPBaroness Anelay
MPs who sent representatives:
Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh MPSir Greg Knight MPElanor Laing MP
Oliver Letwin MPAlok Sharma MPGary Streeter MP
Politicians who received a copy of the report on the day:
Ruth Davidson MSPSteve Double MPVictoria Prentis MP
Apologies from MPs who had to be in the Chamber:
Hilary Benn MPStephen Timms MP

Bring Hope to the Middle East

It's not only our parliamentarians who can help to bring hope to the Middle East - you can play a part too.

Please pray:

  • That those in attendance will do what they can to act on behalf of Christians and other minorities in the Middle East
  • That MPs who were unable to attend will still take the time to read the report and act on its findings
  • For wisdom for our political leaders as they consider how they can most effectively bring hope to the Middle East.