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“I am sad – what manner of country is this?” A country where some people are untouchables. A country where some people will be killing innocent citizens. What we are witnessing today is simply coordinated attacks against Christians in the country. These senseless killings of innocent Nigerians are becoming a daily occurrence. Why can’t our government put a stop to these killings? Is it not obvious that some people, somewhere are carrying a particular agenda? There is more to this than meets the eye.”
(Morning Star News) – Following the killing of a Roman Catholic priest and a parishioner in southeastern Nigeria earlier this month, another clergyman on Thursday (Aug. 15) narrowly escaped an attack by Muslim Fulani herdsmen about 40 miles away, sources said.
Armed Fulani herdsmen on Aug. 1 killed the Rev. Paul Offu in Awgu town, south of Enugu city in Enugu state, as he was returning to his church site after a visit to other congregations he was overseeing, according to Enugu Diocese officials. The herdsmen shot his car as he drove along Ihe-Agbudu Road, forcing it to a halt, and then dragged him out and shot him to death, diocese spokesman Emmanuel Nkemjika Igwesihi said in a press statement.
The herdsmen took parishioner Kenneth Igwe in the ambush. Police found his corpse on Aug. 5, according to Igwesihi.
“The Rev. Fr. Paul Offu was shot dead by some Fulani herdsmen who took him into the bush around 2 p.m.,” the Rev. Ben Achi, director of communications for the diocese told Morning Star News by phone. “He was accosted by the herdsmen and was shot dead.”
About 69 kilometers (42 miles) north, herdsmen on Thursday (Aug. 15) ambushed another Roman Catholic priest, the Rev. Chimezie Ani, near Caritas University, a Catholic university in Amorji-Nike, as he drove toward Ugwuomu, the priest told Morning Star News.
“I was driving when suddenly the herdsmen, who were armed, shot at my vehicle, aiming at the windshield,” Ani told Morning Star News. “I immediately on noticing them stopped the car and drove in reverse. The bullets from them broke my windshield and riddled the car all over. I miraculously escaped unhurt. They retreated into the bushes after realizing I escaped from them.”
He said Fulani herdsmen have been attacking Christian commuters along that highway “for some time now.”
“I’m sure they were herdsmen,” Ani said.
Achi of the Enugu diocese confirmed the Aug. 1 and Aug. 15 attacks.
“The incident [Aug. 15] happened along Ugwuomu Road as you heard,” Achi said. “We are very grateful to God that he was not harmed, as he was able to navigate on reverse to a safe distance.”
Following the Aug. 1 killing of Offu, more than 200 Catholic priests took to the streets in the city of Enugu, the state capital, in protest on Aug. 2. They marched peacefully to the State House to present a letter to the governor expressing their displeasure over growing Fulani herdsmen attacks on Christians.
Afterwards the Rev. Callistus Onaga, bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Enugu, told reporters of his sadness over the inability of the government, led by President Muhammadu Buhari, a Muslim Fulani, to end herdsmen attacks across the country. Christians in the state have come under a series of attacks over the past seven years, adversely affecting area Catholic churches, Onaga said.
“I am sorrowful and utterly disappointed on the security in the state,” he told a press conference.
Another priest, the Rev. Clement Ugwu, of St. Mark Catholic Church, Obinofia Ndiuno, in Ezeagu County of the state, was kidnapped and killed in March, and herdsmen shot another priest in late July, Onaga said.
“We were shocked to see a priest that joined in our meeting yesterday afternoon in this bishop’s house very healthy and sound being reported to have died. The priest shot by the herdsmen two weeks back is still receiving intensive medical attention as we speak,” Onaga said. “Why we get worried when our priests are attacked is that it shows the level of insecurity other Nigerians face daily. Our priests are very much respected and honored by our parishioners and the people, so if these things can happen to them, what happens to the flock, the people they shepherd?”
Priests in various parts of the state were kidnapped from 2013 to 2016, he said.
“Only in 2017 were we given some breathing space,” Onaga said. “It continued in 2018 and this year, 2019; it is worse as we have suffered the death of a priest in March this year, and now another issue. All we demand is that if there are crop of bad herdsmen in the state, they should be fished out, and we will continue to live in peace with the good ones.”
Also on Aug. 2, the Rev. Paulinus Ezeokafor, bishop of Awka Diocese, in southeastern Nigeria’s Anambra state, told reporters of his concern over the tepid response of the Nigerian government to violence carried out by armed Muslim Fulani herdsmen. Addressing journalists at St. Patrick’s Catholic Cathedral, Awka, he said the government lacks political will to curtail attacks against Christians.
“I am sad – what manner of country is this?” Ezeokafor said. “A country where some people are untouchables. A country where some people will be killing innocent citizens. What we are witnessing today is simply coordinated attacks against Christians in the country.
“These senseless killings of innocent Nigerians are becoming a daily occurrence. Why can’t our government put a stop to these killings? Is it not obvious that some people, somewhere are carrying a particular agenda? There is more to this than meets the eye.”
Police confirmed the attacks on the priests and reported arrests of some of the attackers.
Police spokesman Frank Mba said in a statement on Friday (Aug. 16) that officers were investigating the attacks on the priests.
“Crack detectives from the Intelligence Response Unit, the Forensic and Homicide sections of the Force Criminal Investigation Department have been deployed to Enugu state,” he said. “The deployment is to complement the Enugu Command of the Force in their investigations into the unfortunate incident.”
Nigeria ranked 12th on Open Doors’ 2019 World Watch List of countries where Christians suffer the most persecution.
- “I don’t believe in these two words [human rights], there are no human rights. But in Western countries, there are animal rights. In Australia they take care of frogs…. Look upon us as frogs, we’ll accept that — just protect us so we can stay in our land.” — Metropolitan Nicodemus, the Syriac Orthodox archbishop of Mosul, National Catholic Register.
- “Those people are the same ones who came here many years ago. And we accepted them. We are the original people in this land. We accepted them, we opened the doors for them, and they push us to be minorities in our land, then refugees in our land. And this will be with you if you don’t wake up.” — Metropolitan Nicodemus.
- “Threats to pandas cause more emotion” than threats to the extinction of the Christians in the Middle East. — Amin Maalouf, French-Lebanese author, Le Temps.
By Giulio Meotti (Gatestone Institute) Convert, pay or die. Five years ago, that was the “choice” the Islamic State (ISIS) gave to Christians in Mosul, then Iraq’s third-largest city: either embrace Islam, submit to a religious tax or face the sword. ISIS then marked Christian houses with the Arabic letter ن (N), the first letter of the Arabic word “Nasrani” (“Nazarene,” or “Christian”) . Christians could often take no more than the clothes on their back and flee a city that had been home to Christians for 1,700 years.
Two years ago, ISIS was defeated in Mosul and its Caliphate crushed. The extremists, however, had succeeded in “cleansing” the Christians. Before the rise of ISIS, there were more than 15,000 Christians there. In July 2019, the Catholic charity, Aid to the Church in Need, disclosed that only about 40 Christians have come back. Not long ago, Mosul had “Christmas celebrations without Christians“.
This cultural genocide, thanks to the indifference of Europeans and many Western Christians more worried about not appearing “Islamophobic” than defending their own brothers, sadly worked. Father Ragheed Ganni, for instance, a Catholic priest from Mosul, had just finished celebrating mass in his church when Islamists killed him. In one of his last letters, Ganni wrote: “We are on the verge of collapse”. That was in 2007 — almost ten years before ISIS eradicated the Christians of Mosul. “Has the world ‘looked the other way’ while Christians are killed?” the Washington Post asked. Definitely.
Traces of a lost Jewish past have also resurfaced in Mosul, where a Jewish community had also lived for thousands of years. Now, 2,000 years later, both Judaism and Christianity have effectively been annihilated there. That life is over. The newspaper La Vie collected the testimony of a Christian, Yousef (the name has been changed), who fled in the night of August 6, 2014, just before ISIS arrived. “It was a real exodus”, Yousef said.
“The road was black with people, I did not see either the beginning or the end of this procession. There were children were crying, families dragging small suitcases. Old men were on the shoulders of their sons. People were thirsty, it was very hot. We have lost all that we have built for life and nobody fought for us”.
Some communities, such as the tiny Christian pockets in Mosul, are almost certainly lost forever”, wrote two American scholars in Foreign Policy.
“We are on the precipice of catastrophe, and unless we act soon, within weeks, the tiny remnants of Christian communities in Iraq may be mostly eradicated by the genocide being committed against Christians in Iraq and Syria”.
In Mosul alone, 45 churches were vandalized or destroyed. Not a single one was spared. Today there is only one church open in the city. ISIS apparently also wanted to destroy Christian history there. They targeted the monastery of Saints Behnam and Sarah, founded in the fourth century. The monastery had survived the seventh century Islamic conquest and subsequent invasions, but in 2017, crosses were destroyed, cells were looted, and statues of the Virgin Mary were beheaded. The Iraqi priest, Najeeb Michaeel, who saved 850 manuscripts from the Islamic State, was ordained last January as the new Chaldean Catholic archbishop of Mosul….continue reading this article here
ERBIL, KURDISTAN (ANS) — Around 10 Christian villages in the northern Kurdistan Region have been evacuated due to frequent and increasing Turkish bombings targeting apparent Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) positions.
Assyrian International News Agency (AINA) reports Rudaw TV www.rudaw.net visited Christian villages in the Kani Masi District, where some homes are locked up and abandoned. There are 25 such villages in the district, including 10 or so evacuated ones, according to district officials. One local told Rudaw the PKK should leave the area.
“PKK better to go back to Turkey, and fight against the Turkish army inside Turkey, and leave Kurdistan region for peace,” said Shlimon Aseel from the village of Duri, where 15 of the 40 homes have been evacuated.
AINA said the PKK is a Kurdish militant group that has fought the Turkish state for decades for greater autonomy for Turkey’s Kurds. Ankara considers the PKK a terrorist group and regularly strikes apparent targets of the group in the Kurdistan Region. The PKK is based in the Qandil mountains along the Turkey-Iraq border.
PKK fighters are present in the areas around the city of Amedi where Kani Masi is. The area is in the Duhok Province amd close to the Turkish border. Most Christians in the there identify as ethnic Assyrians.
Sarbast Sabri, the head of Kani Masi District, says the Turkish airstrikes hit the district on a daily basis, and negatively impact the lives of civilians.
“Civilians in the area are living in continuous panic, due to the Turkish bombardments and PKK movements in the areas of Kani Masi,” he told Rudaw.
Civilians are frequently caught in the crossfire between Turkey and the PKK, and people empty the villages to escape the fighting.
According to AINA, the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) has repeatedly asked PKK fighters to stay away from populated areas and villages. Kurdistan Region Prime Minister Masrour Barzani has also voiced concerns to Turkey over civilian deaths resulting from Turkey’s airstrikes.
Baghdad has likewise called on Turkey to end its attacks, while simultaneously demanding the PKK leave their territories.
Turkey launched Operation claw in late May to drive the PKK away from its border with the Kurdistan Region.
On June 27, Turkish airstrikes resulted in the deaths of at least four Kurdish civilians near the village of Kurtak at the foot of the Qandil Mountains, where the PKK is headquartered.
There was a short-lived peace process between Turkey and the PKK which ended in failure in July 2015. Since then, at least 4,397 people, including Turkish security forces, PKK fighters, and civilians have been killed, according to the International Crisis Group (ICG).
(World Watch Monitor) At least 176 children lost either one or both of their parents in the Sri Lanka Easter Sunday bombings, according to the Archbishop of Colombo, Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith.
Just over three months ago, at St. Anthony’s Shrine in the country’s capital saw a powerful explosion rip apart the bodies of worshippers. The shrine has already been rebuilt, but its congregation could not hold back their tears as they met for a packed Sunday service on the three month anniversary, July 21 – although not all survivors were yet emotionally ready to return to the parish.
Of the more than 250 people who died in the bombings in three churches and three hotels in Sri Lanka, 54 were from St. Anthony’s, announced the priest, Fr. Jude Fernando during the service, as armed military personnel guarded the church and frisked all visitors. At least 106 worshippers were wounded in the explosion, he added.
Riswani, a mother of two and a convert from Islam, still cannot hear in one ear, which was wounded in the bombing. She was attending Easter service with her seven-month-old daughter, Athara. When her husband, Michel Thass, arrived – delayed as their five-year-old son wanted to sleep for longer – he found his wife lying on the floor, covered with pieces of flesh and blood from other victims. Baby Athara was found lying at a distance, her intestines hanging out of her stomach.
Athara, who’s had to undergo three surgeries, has recovered, but her mother is still in a state of shock, Thass told Vishal Arora in this film for World Watch Monitor.
Like Athara, dozens of children were seriously injured, and dozens of others died.
Islamist extremists bombed three churches, including St. Sebastian’s in Negombo (outside Colombo, close to the international airport) and the evangelical Zion Church in the city of Batticaloa in the Eastern Province, several hundred miles from the capital.
On July 21, St. Sebastian’s held their first service since the terror attacks.
In Batticaloa, some injured victims remain hospitalised, some still unaware that their children or spouses have succumbed to injuries, Raghu Balachandran from the National Christian Evangelical Alliance of Sri Lanka said.
Helping victims and survivors deal with their emotional trauma is the biggest need at the moment, but there are few Christian counsellors available, he added.
(CBN) A Nigerian pastor was reportedly killed and his wife abducted for ransom by unknown assailants Sunday evening while traveling on a highway where being attacked by criminals has become a common occurrence.
The Punch reported Jeremiah Omolara, the pastor of Living Faith Church in Romi New Extension, a suburb of Kaduna state, was shot and killed when the attackers ambushed his vehicle on the Abuja-Kaduna Highway.
In addition to Omolara’s wife, the couple’s son was also in the vehicle. He was able to escape, according to news reports.
The assailants are demanding a ransom in the amount of more than $138,000 for the pastor’s wife.
Omolara’s murder and his wife’s abduction were confirmed by Rev. Joseph Hayab, chairman of the state chapter of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN).
Hayab urged the Nigerian government to tighten security in the state, according to to the Daily Post Nigeria.
He also told of how kidnappings in the Kaduna are on the rise, especially the abduction of clergy.
“Just last week a clergyman was attacked in Kasuwan Magani,” Hayab explained. “The security man was killed immediately as they struggled to find their way into the house. Thank God, the gunmen could not gain entrance into the room.”
He also added the daughter of a Baptist pastor was recently abducted and the kidnappers are demanding a huge ransom.
“Now the Living Faith Church pastor was killed along Kaduna-Abuja in the presence of his wife, who was later abducted,” Hayab told the newspaper. “That tells you that the new trend is to attack us in our homes or in our churches or on the roads. We are just not safe anywhere and we are asking the same question we have been asking: ‘Where are our security agencies?'”
“Are we being told tactically that we should defend ourselves?” he continued.
Nigerians at risk are often told by authorities to become vigilantes and protect their own villages.
“If we start defending ourselves, it means that we no longer have security or we no longer have government. Or is this government only for those they love and they don’t care about others?”
“We don’t want a situation where we will be forced to think of how to protect ourselves, we believe that government is there to protect us,” Hayab concluded.
As CBN News has reported, hundreds of Christians have been killed in Nigeria by radical Islamic militias, including the Fulani herdsmen.
“Nigeria is now the deadliest place in the world to be a Christian,” explained attorney Emmanuel Ogebe. “What we have is a genocide. They are trying to displace the Christians, they are trying to possess their land and they are trying to impose their religion on the so-called infidels and pagans who they consider Christians to be.”
(World Watch Monitor) Eritrea’s Orthodox patriarch, Abune Antonios, who was placed under house arrest by the government in 2007, has been expelled by pro-government bishops in his church on accusations of heresy, the BBC reported.
The attempt to excommunicate is widely seen as symptomatic of Eritrea’s government push for more political control over the Eritrean Orthodox Church (EOC).
The announcement came one day after Eritrea’s Christian gospel singer Helen Berhane, who was imprisoned for her faith, raised the issue of religious persecution and the plight of the 90-year-old church leader with US President Donald Trump during the 2nd Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom and Belief last month in Washington.
Our Helen Berhane, the gospel singer #Eritrea, with #PresidentTrump raising the issue of religious persecution in the country and on the fate of Abune Antonios, a day before his excommunication by the regime #Yiakl #Kifaya pic.twitter.com/NJshycrJhM
— Mohamed Kheir Omer (@mkheirom) July 20, 2019
Patriarch Abune Antonios was removed by the Asmara government and placed under house arrest in 2007 after he refused to comply with the regime’s attempts to interfere with church affairs. The event led to a schism in the EOC with a pro-government group supporting a new government-approved replacement who was not recognised by the Papacy in Egypt who installed the patriarch and his predecessors, as reported by ICN.
Following international pressure Antonios made a first public appearance in 2017 as he participated in a mass which rights called a “marketing exercise” by the government.
He remained under house arrest but in April filmed a video that was broadcast in which he reportedly talked about his circumstances and criticised the fact the Church was being led by a layman. The patriarch, who is suffering from health problems, allegedly also said his fellow clergy did not care for his wellbeing. He is currently staying in servant’s quarters of the house owned by the pro-government Bishop Lukas, who himself has ambitions to become the next patriarch, said ICN.
Apparently referring to the video, the pro-government bishops said in a letter explaining their decision to expel the church’s legitimate leader, it was ‘recent activities’ by Abune Antonios that had raised questions about the sincerity of his repentance and that they were concerned about the growing risk of heresy in the church. They did, however, say they would continue to provide the patriarch with food and a place to stay.
In May, a monitoring group for the UN said “thousands” of Christians are facing detention as “religious freedom continue[s] to be denied in Eritrea” and questioned why the UN was not monitoring the situation more closely.
Eritrea is 7th on Open Doors International’s 2019 World Watch List of the 50 countries in which it is most difficult to live as a Christian.
(Morning Star News) – A Christian from South Korea arrested in Nepal on charges of “attempting to convert” was released on bail on Wednesday (Aug. 7), sources said.
Cho Yusang, a 73-year-old evangelical Christian, posted bail of 150,000 Nepalese rupees (US$1,330) after being arrested on July 23. His health deteriorated after he was incarcerated, and he had been hospitalized, said Tanka Subedi, chair of the Religious Liberty Forum Nepal (RLFN).
On Monday (Aug. 5), Subedi told Morning Star News that Cho had been released from hospital care.
“Though he was out of hospital, he was feeling dizzy this morning also,” Subedi said. “His health is still not good. He does not want to go back to the hospital, because he does not have much money left. He does not have insurance cover to pay his bills.”
In Nepal on a business visa, Cho was also charged with misuse of visa.
The charge of “attempting to convert” under Section 158 (1) of the Nepal Penal Code of 2017 calls for as much five years in jail and/or a fine of up to 50,000 Nepalese Rupees (US$445), according to Subedi.
Cho and two other foreigners working separately from him were found involved in conversion activity in Pokhara, in central Nepal, Raj Kumar KC, spokesperson of the District Police Office in Kaski, reportedly said.
Police arrested Cho for allegedly distributing leaflets and Bibles in the Barachi area of Kaski District, in Gandaki Pradesh Province, KC told the Kathmandu, Nepal-based news outlet Republica. The police spokesman said officers also arrested two Japanese nationals, Jehova’s Witnesses unaffiliated with Cho, in the Ratna area of the same district on the same charges.
KC reportedly said their arrest shows that “some foreigners do not come with good intentions,” and that they would be charged with proselytizing.
B.P. Khanal, national coordinator of Nepal for the International Panel of Parliamentarians for Freedom of Religion or Belief [IPPFoRB], told Morning Star News that after arresting Cho from his lakeside lodging, police raided his room and confiscated some Bibles and Christian literature.
Khanal, who is responsible for inter-faith relations for the Nepal Christian Society, said possession of a Bible and Christian literature is not evidence of a crime.
“In this case the law is discriminatory, because it is not an offense to have Bibles in your room,” Khanal told Morning Star News. “The recovery of some Bibles and Christian literature from Yusang’s personal belongings is projected as an offense and as a crime Yusang committed. Anybody can have a Bible – it is not a drug or an explosive. Carrying a Bible should not be and must not be a criminal offense.”
The Nepal Christian Society has hired an attorney for Cho, he said.
U.S. Citizen Charged
Earlier, in Basgadhi of Bardiya District, police on June 21 arrested U.S. citizen Bradley Navarro Anagaran on a charge of possessing Christian literature, according to the RLFN.
When local pastor Hira Singh Sunar went to the police station to inquire about his arrest, officers arrested him as well, according to an RLFN statement. Both Anagaran and Pastor Sunar were charged with “attempting to convert,” it stated.
Anagaran was found with two discipleship leaflets designed for use within a church circle, Christian sources said.
“Apart from the literature on discipleship, police have confiscated a few pairs of reading glasses from his backpack, which means that the police did not find him distributing the literature to anybody,” Khanal of the IPPFoRB said.
The two Christians were moved from district headquarters of Gulariya to Bansgadhi police station. They were released on bail on July 3, and Anagaran has returned to the United States, but he must return for a hearing at the end of this month and every court date thereafter, Subedi of the RLFN said.
“I personally don’t know how he will be able to do that, as it is a great financial burden to travel every time for his court date from the United States to Nepal,” Subedi told Morning Star News. “The court procedures in Nepal take several years and are tiresome.”
A team from the Nepal Christian Society in Kathmandu, including Khanal, went to speak with local officials.
“We met with about 60 local pastors and mobilized prayer, as well as formed a task force,” Khanal said. “We met Bradley and Sunar inside the jail and comforted them. We met the police inspector who arrested Bradley, the deputy superintendent of police, chief district officer and the prosecuting attorney to discuss how the charges in the case could be minimized, for there was no ‘conversion attempt’ in the case at all.”
After the initial order for a week’s remand ended, police kept them in custody while extending the investigation for no apparent reason, sources said.
“Both Bradley and Sunar were being kept in a miserable condition while in custody,” read an RLFN newsletter. “They were treated as criminals even though they had not committed any crime.”
The Rev. Mukunda Sharma, spokesperson of the RLFN, was a part of the team visiting the duo in jail. He urged human rights and diplomatic officials to support them.
Khanal issued a plea for foreigners visiting Nepal to refrain from doing anything that will land them in legal trouble. He said that sharing the gospel where there are already local churches should not be taken up by Christians from other countries.
“Their role can be to inspire, educate and train local churches if they really want the bring the gospel to the people,” he said. “Let the local church in their local language share the gospel.”
As the Nepal Christian Society is taking up an increasing number of legal cases, he asked that the international Christian community pray for those accused under Nepal’s new criminal code.
An increase in persecution of Christians in Nepal began after a new criminal code was passed in October 2017, which took effect in August 2018.
Pastor Sagar Baiju, a senior Christian leader in the country, said that such incidents make it clear that government officials, police and politicians are targeting Christians.
“Unless this new law is revoked, such incidents will continue to increase in Nepal,” Baiju told Morning Star News. “When I travel to foreign counties, I carry my identity with me – and my identity is that I am a Nepali, but apart from being a Nepali, I am a Christian, so I always carry my Bible with me. How is it a crime, when foreign tourists come to Nepal to tour the country or to visit their friends and carry their Bible in their hands?”
People of other religions erect huge tents, gather in large numbers and use loud sound systems for worship, and the lawmakers do not question them, he said.
“All the schools in Nepal have their morning devotions according to the faith that the school authorities follow,” he said. “In schools run by Hindus, they make the children perform Saraswati Vandana [a common Hindu mantra] in their morning devotion, and nobody objects to it. Then why is it a crime, if a Christian school makes the children say The Lord’s Prayer in the assembly? Why are objections raised and Christians ghettoized as criminals?”
There is a need for Christians to unite and raise the issue with a single voice, he said.
“A hospital owned by a Hindu has a big Hindu temple inside the premises,” he said. “They are free to write Hindu scriptures on the walls of the hospital and nobody objects. But if a Christian hospital has a Bible inside the hospital or a Bible verse hung on any wall, we are accused of preaching our religion, and the authorities running the hospital are in trouble.”
Nepal was ranked 32nd on Christian support organization Open Doors’ 2019 World Watch List of the countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian.
What Iraq’s Christians want from the West is to say the plain truth: that there is ethnic cleansing of Christians in the region and it is ongoing, Dr Tim Stanley told a meeting at the UK’s parliament last Tuesday, 9 July.
“If we don’t say what is really happening in the region, which is ethnic cleansing of both Christians and Yazidis, we allow Islamic State and other perpetrators to get away with it,” Stanley told the audience at the event, ‘The Global Persecution of Christian Minorities’, organised by the Henry Jackson Society, a British foreign-policy think tank.
Since Islamic State was pushed out of the region, displaced Iraqis have slowly started to return to their communities but continue to live in fear and they continue to be vulnerable. Pockets of IS fighters are still active and the group has said it started the fires that in recent weeks torched hundreds of acres of land and crops, “owned by infidels”, in northern Iraq.
Meanwhile, Iranian-backed militias have moved into areas previously under IS-control, discouraging people to trade with Christians, Stanley said.
In January, a UN team started investigations in the country to collect evidence of genocide and war crimes committed by Islamic State fighters, in order to take the perpetrators to court in Iraq. The UN has been reluctant to recognise the violence against Christians and Yazidis as genocide, despite pressure from civil society groups and some of its own member states such as the Netherlands.
‘Instruments of the West’
Those who have returned to their communities and want to leave, face challenges such as the western visa application processes, according to Stanley.
The US, under the Trump administration, has taken fewer Iraqi refugees in than it did during the Obama administration. Instead, it sent an aid package of US$35 million to the region to support Iraqi Christians and Yazidis who had suffered under IS occupation. The UK also has been slow on the uptake.
Stanley acknowledged that it’s not always a simple matter of putting pressure on governments to treat Christians fairly. Christians often are considered to be instruments of Western governments, and as such are regarded as a threat to national identity or security. The challenge, then, is to help Christians without exposing them to undue risk, he said.
For the UK government, this could mean including the topic of religious freedom in future trade negotiations, said Dr Matthew Rees, Head of Advocacy for Open Doors UK and Ireland. It is one of the policy recommendations the Christian religious-freedom charity has made to the country’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office on the back of an independent review of how the government department supports persecuted Christians.
“Just like climate change, the topic of religious freedom is not a one-party or single-leader issue but something to grow consensus around”, Rees said.