The British Prime Minister Theresa May was briefed on the plight of Christians and minorities in the Middle East in a meeting yesterday (13 December) with an Iraqi priest who has been looking after refugees who fled IS violence.
Father Daniel Alkory highlighted the plight of Christians and minorities in the Middle East and asked for help in securing a better future for them.
The priest has been looking after Iraqi refugees (or “relatives”, as he prefers to call them) in his church compound after they were forced to flee their homes by Islamic State in the summer of 2014.
Fr. Alkory, accompanied by Lisa Pearce, CEO of the religious freedom charity Open Doors UK and Ireland, and MP Dame Caroline Spelman, presented May with a Bible that had been found burnt but intact at a shrine in Karamles, after the jihadist group was ousted from the Nineveh Plains region last year.
Open Doors, which has been calling for the international community to do more to enable displaced Christians to return to the region, said in a press release: “The survival of the Bible symbolises the hope which the Christian community in Iraq continue to hold on to.”
Later that day Fr. Alkory told around 30 MPs, Peers and church leaders assembled at the UK parliament that there was a genocide taking place in his homeland and that it would depend on their actions whether there would be a future for Christians in the Middle East.
He said that although the terror of Islamic State may have ceased, “this does not mean we have become free, [as] IS was not the only one who persecuted us”.
Lisa Pearce noted that the number of Christians in Iraq had shrunk in the last 15 years from an estimated 1.2-1.5 million to just over 250,000 today because of targeted violence against them.
The priest said Iraqi Christians were disappointed with the West, saying: “Many might have been against the war in Iraq, but if you are silent, you are guilty too… I believe that whether my people will [one day] be gone will depend on your actions”.
‘Is there room for Christians in the Middle East today?’
Fr. Alkory described how among the refugees in Erbil there are those who wish to remain in their homeland, and those who want to leave. He said his strategy in uniting these groups has been working with young people “because they are the future”, and when children are happy, parents will start think differently about the future.
Lisa Pearce said there is no future for Christians and other minority groups in the Middle East if religious leaders are not involved in peace-making and the building of a sustainable future.
According to the UK’s Minister for the Middle East and North Africa, Alistair Burt, “the Middle East [will] not survive without tolerance”. He said Christians had long exemplified this tolerance in the region and that, if they left, tolerance could leave with them.
Meanwhile Open Doors supporters, dressed as Mary and Joseph, gathered outside parliament, holding placards that read: “Is there room for Christians in the Middle East today?”
— Open Doors UK ن (@OpenDoorsUK) December 13, 2017
The event came after 808,172 people from 142 countries signed an Open Doors petition, asking the United Nations and governments around the world to ensure 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.
Earlier this week Noeh, a 12-year-old from northern Iraq who lived in Fr. Alkory’s church compound in Erbil for over three years, presented the petition to UN representatives in New York and then the US Vice President, Mike Pence, in Washington DC.