Over 400,000 people from 127 countries have signed a petition calling on world leaders to support persecuted Christians and other minorities in Syria and Iraq, as part of the Open Doors Hope for the Middle East campaign.
Over 98,000 of the signatures come from the Middle East itself. The Hope for the Middle East petition was created after eight months of consultation with Christians and church leaders in Syria and Iraq, and asks the UN to ensure that Christians and other minorities in these countries have:
- a right to equal citizenship
- dignified living conditions
- a role in bringing reconciliation to their communities and rebuilding society.
The petition will be presented to the UN on 11 December, and the UK government on 13 December. Open Doors is hoping to gather as many signatures as possible before these dates.
One of those who has signed the petition is Father Thabet, a church leader from Karamles, Iraq. He said, "We need international support and protection. That is the only way our future as Christians in this country can be guaranteed."
Father Thabet was forced to flee Karamles along with his entire community when the self-proclaimed Islamic State invaded the village, but it was liberated in October 2016, and the community are beginning to make repairs and return. Of the 797 houses in Karamles, 97 were reduced to piles of rubble, 446 were completely burnt out, and the others were damaged.
Father Thabet says, "We start with the houses with the least amount of damage. Our budget is limited and the government is not helping us."
Through a local partner, Open Doors has been providing support to help the community begin to repair 50 homes.
Father Thabet believes it is vital that the church remains in Iraq. He said, "It is our mission to live here in this place as Christians, the place of the root of Christianity. Without faith I do not have a reason to stay here. But I have faith, so I am here."
Father Thabet next to a map of Karamles, marked with plans for rebuilding and repairing - bigger picture sizes available on request:
Noeh, a 12-year-old boy from Karamles, has recently returned to Karamles with his family. "After the liberation in October we found out that Islamic State had burned our house. I was very sad when I saw it for the first time," Noeh said. They are currently living in temporary accommodation in Karamles.
Despite the state they found their home in, Noeh and his family are keen to be back in Karamles. Noeh said, "We want to return home. We thank everyone who is helping us. I know there are others from our village who don't want to return, but I do want to return. This is our land. I feel the Holy Spirit inside me. He tells me it is good to live in Karamles again."
Open Doors UK & Ireland has been telling Noeh's story at summer festivals, and encouraging people to ‘Speak up for Noeh' by signing the petition.
Noeh in the remains of his bedroom in Karamles:
Speak up for Noeh graphic:
A video of Noeh in Karamles can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KOl1n1QAQ04
Another who believes that international support is vital if the church is to survive in the Middle East is Father George, a church leader from Qaraqosh, Iraq. He said, "I think we need at least an international commitment to survey our situation, to push the government to protect the vulnerable minorities like the Christians and the Yazidis."
Qaraqosh was home to 50,000 Christians before the invasion of IS. Open Doors partners have helped to repair 124 homes in Qaraqosh so far. Father George said, "We decided to restore the city piece by piece so that we wouldn't get isolated houses where a family would live between empty houses. The main thought is that we need to recreate the sense of community."
Father George with lists of workers involved in repairing homes in Qaraqosh:
There is a video of Father George in Qaraqosh here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iqQYQktppIc&t=22s
The Hope for the Middle East campaign is a global, seven-year campaign mobilising Christians around the world to stand with the church in the Middle East. As part of this, Open Doors is asking people to sign the Hope for the Middle East petition, which will be presented to the UN on 11 December 2017.
As well as speaking out in advocacy, Open Doors UK & Ireland has launched an appeal to encourage people to provide practical support for persecuted Christians in Iraq and Syria. Open Doors works through churches and local partners to provide relief aid to tens of thousands of displaced Christians in Iraq and Syria, alongside long-term support such as providing training, trauma counselling, and supporting families to rebuild their homes and start small businesses.
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Open Doors UK & Ireland is part of Open Doors International, a global NGO network which has supported and strengthened persecuted Christians in over 60 countries for over 60 years. Last year it raised approximately $70 million to provide practical support to persecuted Christians such as food, medicines, trauma care, legal assistance, safe houses and schools, as well as spiritual support through Christian literature, training and resources. Open Doors UK & Ireland raised over £11 million.
Every year Open Doors publishes the World Watch List - a ranking of the 50 countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian. This is produced using detailed information provided by Open Doors co-workers in more than 60 countries, as well as independent experts. Data is gathered on five spheres of life - private, family, community, national and church life - plus a sixth sphere measuring the degree of violence impacting Christians. Persecution in each country is recorded by Open Doors using a point system. Open Doors' research methods and results have been independently audited by the International Institute for Religious Freedom. The 2017 World Watch List accounts for the 12 months ending 31 October 2016.
Syria is number 6 and Iraq is number 7 on the 2017 Open Doors World Watch List.