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80% of Christians driven out of Iraq, 750,000 people from 143 countries sign a petition calling for a better deal for Christians in the Middle East

13 December 2017

As around 80% of Christians are driven out of Iraq, 750,000 people from 143 countries sign a petition calling for a better deal for Christians and other minorities in the Middle East

Conservative MP Dame Caroline Spelman and Labour MP Kate Green are today (Wednesday 13 December) championing the Open Doors Hope for the Middle East petition signed by over 750,000 people from 143* countries, asking the UK government and the United Nations to ensure that Middle Eastern Christians and other minorities enjoy the right to equal citizenship, dignified living conditions and a prominent role in reconciling and rebuilding their society.

Over 165,000 people from the UK and Ireland have signed the petition, along with over 200,000 people from the Middle East itself, and there are even signatures from people who come from countries such as North Korea, Afghanistan, Chile and Zimbabwe.

Rt Hon Dame Caroline Spelman MP commented, “Despite decades of persecution, the church in the Middle East is uniquely placed to bring hope to their wider communities. We in the UK and elsewhere must stand alongside them as they seek to do this, and work tirelessly to secure a future for all people, no matter what their faith, in the Middle East.”

Kate Green MP said, “In the face of the situation in Iraq and Syria it is easy to feel helpless. But I can feel confident in my support for the work that Open Doors does – persecution should never be ignored. This campaign provides concrete actions which we, as UK politicians, should act upon.”

The petition is part of the Hope for the Middle East campaign, launched by Open Doors in partnership with Middle East Concern. The seven year campaign aims to unite people around the world to ensure that every person in the Middle East, regardless of their faith, has a home, a future and a voice. As part of this, Open Doors asked people to sign the Hope for the Middle East petition, which calls upon governments around the world and the United Nations to:

  • Ensure that the current and future legal frameworks in Syria and Iraq fully promote and protect the equal and inalienable rights of all their citizens, irrespective of race, religion or other status
  • To ensure the dignified and continued improvement of living conditions for all citizens, but especially returning refugees and the internally displaced – giving them access to  housing, education and jobs
  • To identify and equip religious leaders and faith-based organisations to play a constructive and central role in reconciling and rebuilding both Syrian and Iraqi societies.

Lisa Pearce, CEO of Open Doors UK and Ireland said, “With 80%** of Christians having left Iraq and 85% of Christian being forced out of Aleppo in Syria, it is unthinkable that Islamic extremism should drive the church from the Middle East – the birthplace of Christianity. The King of Jordan has said that Christians are the glue that hold the Middle East together. Diversity counters extremism. Christians and other religious minorities have been systematically persecuted across the Middle East and forced to become refugees. Once the hostilities are over and countries begin to rebuild it is vital that Christians and other religious minorities are included and play a key role in the restoration and reconciliation of their nations to ensure a homogenous, equal society.”

Father Daniel, an Iraqi priest who fled from Islamist extremists, and Foreign Office Minister Alistair Burt, will brief MPs and Peers on the crisis facing Christians and other religious minorities in the Middle East at an afternoon meeting in the House of Commons. 

Father Daniel, who now works with refugee children in Erbil, said, “From when I was born until now, all I have known is war, war, war. I hope that today’s children will have a life without any wars and without any weapons. They need peace. I was very glad to present this petition to the UK government and speak up for Christians in the Middle East. I want the children in my Sunday school to have a better future and to be properly and equally included in their society.”

Father Daniel, 27, was born during the Gulf War and was a teenager living in Baghdad when Al-Qaida threatened his family. In 2006 he was forced to flee to Erbil or be killed for his Christian faith. He devoted his ministry to the displaced children who arrived in Erbil after Mosul fell to so-called Islamic State (IS) militants in 2014. 

The Hope for the Middle East petition was presented at the United Nations in New York on Monday 11 December by Noeh, a 12-year-old Iraqi boy who was forced to flee from his home when IS invaded his village. Nearly four years later, IS have been driven out and his family have returned to rebuild their burnt out house and to create a future in their beloved village. Noeh was granted a visa to travel from Iraq to the US to present the petition. Noeh’s family are typical of many who suffered appalling trauma but want to return, rebuild and see reconciliation between different groups in Iraq, with the ultimate goal of people from all religions living harmoniously side by side.

Iraq is number 7  and Syria is number 6 on the Open Doors World Watch List – a ranking of the 50 countries where Christians face the most extreme persecution.

*The petition closes on 8 December – exact number of signatures and countries where signatories come from available 11 December.

**See figure explanation below

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Noeh, Father Daniel, Lisa Pearce, Kate Green MP and Rt Hon Dame Caroline Caroline Spellman are all available for interview.

Please credit images: © Open Doors International
Information on Open Doors: www.opendoorsuk.org
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**Between 1.2 and 2 million Christians were estimated to reside in Iraq in the late 1980s. However, today it is estimated that only 200,000-250,000 of these Christians remain in the country. It is estimated that since 2014 around 100,000 Christians have left Iraq, with many displaced internally within the country’s borders. These internally displaced Christians fled the so-called Islamic State invasion of Mosul and the Nineveh Plain. Using 1.2 million and 200,000 this gives a figure of 83.4% of Christians leaving Iraq.

Prior to 2011, estimates stated that 8-10% of the Syrian population were Christian, translating to 1.7-1.9 million people. While estimates as to the number of Christians who have left since 2011 are highly contested, some have calculated that 300,000 Christians have left Syria, while others provide larger estimates of around 800,000 – up to 50%. See Open Doors Those Who Remain report. Aleppo was Syria’s most Christian city but by Spring 2015 the number of Christians living in the city had gone down from 400,000 to less than 60,000 in the four years of the war – a reduction of 85%. Open Doors knows from anecdotal evidence from church leaders that this number has reduced further but figures are not currently available.

Open Doors UK & Ireland is part of Open Doors International, a global NGO network which has supports and strengthens persecuted Christians in over 60 countries, and has been working 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.

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