Viennese Archbishop Cardinal Schönborn visited the Kurdistan Region of Iraq to meet several representatives of church and polity, including Chaldaic-Catholic Patriarch Mar Louis Raphael Sako, Chaldaic-Catholic Archbishop Bashar Warda, Syrian-Catholic Archbishop Youhanna Boutros Mouche, Syrian-Orthodox Archbishop Mar Nikodemus David Sharaf und Minister of Interior of the Kurdistan Region Karim Sinjari. Moreover, he also gained an impression of the situation of several IDP and refugee camps in the Region. Following you can read the summary of a comprehensive report of the PRO ORIENTE foundation.
During his visit, Cardinal Schönborn stated: “To save money on local refugee assistance and to simultaneously build fences in Europe makes no sense. Comparably few resources, in contrast to those we now have to spend on refugees [in Europe], would suffice to help people here.” If people could see a future in their home region, they would not take on the dangerous journey to Europe. This was “a European task – but also an Austrian one.”
Kurdish Minister of Interior described the difficult situation of IDPs, which have found shelter in the Kurdistan Region. Sinjari stated that without additional help, the authorities are incapable of providing sufficient assistance and services to the refugees and IDPs. In total, Kurdistan is providing shelter for 1.6 Million IDPs, including Muslims, Christians, Yezidis, and other minorities. Moreover, the Region is hosting another 250,000 refugees from Syria. The Minister of Interior assured the Cardinal, that for the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), Christians are an integral part of the country.
During visits to several refugee and IDP camps, Cardinal Schönborn assured the people of his solidarity. He emphasized that it is important not to decrease the assistance programs for the refugees in the countries surrounding Syria. On multiple occasions he was confronted with the argument that assistance for Christians is the Region has rapidly decreased. “This is disastrous, because it will lead more people to choose to flee the region.”
Flight of Christians would be a great loss
Cardinal Schönborn was deeply affected by the hardship of the Christians who fled the terror militia IS. Only in the summer of 2014, around 120,000 Christians found refuge in the safe autonomous Kurdistan Region of Iraq. The majority of these is still living there as IDPs. The people reside in container camps or other emergency shelters. The people were forced to flee IS within hours and lost everything, explained Cardinal Schönborn.
Although it is understandable, that many Christians want to leave to Europe, their exodus would be a great loss for Iraq, Schönborn stated. It is thus even more important that the West supports the Christians in Iraq. This is the main message he will deliver to the Austrian government, following his visit to the Region.
Since 2003, the number of Christians in Iraq has dramatically decreased from 1.4 Million to 300,000. Particularly the capture of the Nineveh Plains and the city of Mosul by the terror militia IS has led to mass displacements. Archbishop Warda described the actions of IS as “genocide”. In 2014, 120,000 Christians and Yezidis had fled to the safe Kurdistan Region within only a few days. The church is committed to helping the people, according to Warda. In the autonomous Kurdistan Region the life for Christians is better than in all other parts of Iraq, the Chaldaic-Catholic Archbishop stressed. This includes security, as well as the social situation and the general societal attitude towards religious minorities.