More than 100 Iraqi Christians arrived in Germany on Thursday to begin a new life away from the violence and persecution they endured back in their homeland.
The group, which included single mothers, children and the sick, had come from being refugees in Syria, according to The Associated Press.
By year's end, hundreds of more Iraqi refugees are expected to be flown to Hannover, Germany, as part of an asylum program coordinated by the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugee and the German government.
Their arrival in Germany, coincidentally, falls on the 6th anniversary of the start of the Iraq war.
Since 2003, more than 200 Christians have been killed, dozens of churches bombed, and more than half the Iraqi Christian population has fled to neighboring countries. Christians, although making up only three percent of Iraq's people, account for nearly half of the refugees leaving Iraq, according to the U.N. High Commission for Refugees.
They are often targeted by militants because of the mistaken view that Iraqi Christians are pro-West and pro-coalition force because of their common faith. Also, Iraqi Christians are frequently kidnapped by militants for ransom money because of the false belief that Christians have relatives living abroad who could send money for their release.
Overall, the conditions facing Iraq's Christian population are dire. Many want to remain in the land of their ancestors but are forced to leave to protect their lives.
In October, more than 15,000 Iraqi Christians were driven out of the northern city of Mosul after 13 local Iraqi Christians were killed within four weeks, including three within 24 hours. Several Christian homes were also bombed.
Despite the dangers, Iraqi church leaders have urged the country's Christians to resist from migrating to another country and instead help rebuild Iraq.
"The solution to current conditions lies not in emptying Iraq of its human resources," said participants of a World Council of Churches (WCC)-organized meeting in February that included 12 representatives of Iraqi churches.
Iraqi Christians have a role "in building educational and social institutions that contribute to national reconciliation, peace building and stability," they said.
"Christians have belonged to Iraq since the nation's birth" and are "an essential part of Iraqi society … deeply rooted in its history and civilization," the Iraqi church representative stated.
"[They] have the right to live freely" in their country, enjoying "equal rights and responsibilities along with all other citizens."
The church leaders urged Western churches to not encourage migration or resettlement programs for refugees outside of Iraq. Rather, churches should contribute toward efforts to bring security and stability inside Iraq and help the country's citizens work together to build a better future, they said.
At least 4,259 members of the U.S. military have died as of the 6th anniversary, March 19, according to records by The Associated Press. The United States plans to withdraw combat troops by September 2010, with all American soldiers out of Iraq by the end of 2011. The hope is that the Iraq government and military can be strong enough by that time so that the country doesn't fall into chaos.