Nearly 500 Iraqi Christians may soon be taking refuge in France, according to reports Wednesday.
Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner confirmed the plans in a joint television and radio interview, The Associated Press reported. He said he hoped the Iraqis, particularly from the Chaldean Catholic church, will be in France within weeks.
"No one" is taking in Iraqi Christians, Kouchner said, according to AP. The foreign minister noted that Paris has a community of Chaldeans.
In a speech he delivered late last year, Kouchner claimed that the tragedy of the Middle East Christians is "one of the most poorly understood."
"I went to Iraq, a short while ago, and saw for myself the fate of the Chaldeans," he recalled at a November 2007 symposium themed "What future for Middle East Christians?"
Kouchner, who was born to a Jewish father and Protestant mother, noted the drastic drop in the Iraqi Christian population – from about 1.1 million to about half a million.
"Their persecution continues, daily, and the fact that, admittedly, they aren't the only people being persecuted – certainly not in Baghdad or elsewhere in the country – doesn't make it acceptable," he stated, according to the Embassy of France in the United Kingdom.
"They are especially targeted. I realized this and am going to try, at my small scale, and remedy it."
Christians have always been a minority in Iraq, making up only about three percent of the country's population before the U.S.-led offensive in 2003. But their numbers plummeted thereafter as Iraqi Christians were more frequently targeted by Islamic extremists who falsely associate them with the West and U.S. forces, believing that since America and the West are "Christian" nations then Iraqi Christians must be their allies.
"The situation continues to grow grimmer for the targeted minority Christian community in Iraq," commented Carl Moeller, president/CEO of the persecution watchdog group Open Doors USA, in a statement prepared for the fifth anniversary of the Iraq war. "Pray that 2008 will be the year when the violence will decrease and Christians will not be killed and kidnapped simply for their belief in Christ."
According to Kouchner, there were already around 7,000 Iraqi refugees in France as of November 2007.