Thursday, December 2, 2010

Britain Denies Protection to Iraqi Christians

LONDON (CNS) — A British bishop has criticized his government’s policy of repatriating Iraqi Christians fleeing persecution, saying it was not true that Iraq was safe.

In a special Mass at London’s Westminster Cathedral Nov. 26, Auxiliary Bishop William Kenney of Birmingham, England, denounced the policy. The Mass was celebrated for the victims of the Oct. 31 massacre at Baghdad’s Our Lady of Salvation Syrian Catholic Church, where 58 people died as military officials tried to end a terrorist siege.

“We know the situation of our brothers and sisters still in Iraq who wake at night frightened by the knock at the door, the unusual sound, the gunshot or the explosion, the knowledge that few if any will defend them, the constant fear and tension of not knowing what will happen next,” Bishop Kenney said in his homily.

“We who are here in England are angry when our government said ... that it was safe for people to be repatriated to Iraq,” he told a congregation drawn largely from London’s Iraqi Christian community. “You know in a way few others do how untrue that is.

“Our emotions are of deep sorrow and possibly also of anger: anger that innocent people are killed in this way, that our friends, our relations are sacrificed for, at best, short-term political gain, and, at worst, for no real reason at all, other than that they are followers of Jesus Christ.”

He said the Christian people of Iraq were dying for their faith as martyrs and that he had known personally some of those killed in anti-Christian violence in Mosul and Baghdad.

Martyrdom “is something that the Church in England and Wales understands,” said the bishop, who was forced to cancel a December trip to Iraq because of the security situation. “The Church in these countries is built on the witness of those put to death because they would not renounce their faith.”

“Today, it is not only our relations and friends whom we have come to mourn,” he said. “We have also come to honor them as people who have been killed because of their faith.”

On Nov. 22, Alistair Burt of the British Foreign Office told the BBC that the government would continue to return all Iraqi asylum-seekers to their own country.

Burt said the government considered Iraq safe for repatriation because it was no longer a war-torn country.

In October, the European Court of Human Rights wrote the British government to indicate that it opposed the policy.

The English and Welsh bishops, in a Nov. 19 statement, also urged the government “to review its treatment of asylum-seekers to ensure that those who have suffered persecution are given the protection that they deserve and to increase assistance to those Iraqis who have fled neighboring Iraq.”

In Washington, the U.S. bishops praised a House of Representatives resolution that condemned attacks on religious minorities in Iraq and called for the U.S. government to work with the Iraqi government to protect vulnerable groups. They said they especially supported development of a “comprehensive plan to improve security for religious minorities and to increase their representation in the government of Iraq and to include them in all aspects of Iraqi society.”

From here.

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