Sep 18 2014

Iraqi Christians flood French consulate with visa applications (The Tablet)

Some 10,000 Iraqi Christians have applied for visas at the French consulate in Erbil, capital of the Kurdistan region where they have taken refuge from Islamic State militants who drove them from their homes, according to the France-based Association for Support of Minorities of the East (AEMO).

AEMO secretary-general Elish Yako urged the French Government to speed up visa proceedings for the Christian refugees. Only 55 had been allowed to enter France so far, he told a news conference at the French Senate in Paris.

“We have about 30 families that have offered to receive Iraqis in France and are eagerly awaiting them,” he said. Urging a quick response, he warned: “Winter is coming in a month.”

Joelle Garriaud-Maylam, senator representing French living abroad, said refugees needed to be received with dignity. “We know we can’t take them all in,” she said. “We also can’t forget the other suffering minorities, such as the Yazidis.”

A French church delegation led by bishops’ conference president Archbishop Georges Pontier also discussed the fate of Middle Eastern Christians at an annual meeting with the Government, led this year for the first time by Prime Minister Manuel Valls. Neither side gave further details of the talks, which covered a range of issues of concern to the Catholic hierarchy.

The Muslim Council (CFCM) in France, home to Europe’s largest Islamic minority, urged all mosques across the country to pray for Middle Eastern Christians at their main Friday prayers. It also urged Muslims to help refugees who reached France.

It was the first time the Council took such an initiative, although several of its member mosque networks have issued their own denunciations of Islamic State’s persecution of religious minorities.

In a joint statement with a Christian group defending Eastern Christians, the Council denounced the Islamic State militants, saying “barbarians are perpetrating crimes against humanity » in the region « exploiting Islam as their banner”.

Several French-based Eastern Christian clergy attended the meeting and thanked the Muslim groups for their support. « This is something that had to be done, » said Coptic Orthodox Bishop Abba Athanasios.

About 700 people attended a rally in support of Middle Eastern Christians in Bordeaux on 13 September. Cardinal Jean-Pierre Ricard, the city’s archbishop, and other local clergy, including Maronite priests, and a local imam attended the rally.

Source : The Tablet