Over 1 Million Christians Forced to Flee Iraq as Religious Leaders Say a Focus on Understanding Must be Established

The rise of religious extremism has pushed religious communities to migrate from Iraq, especially Christians, according to Patriarch Louis Raphael Sako, Patriarch of the Chaldeans in Iraq.

The patriarch called on the Iraqi government to extend security and protection of religious freedoms and ethnic diversity as well as to promote reconciliation and social cohesion between all components.

In his speech recently at a conference held by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in coordination with the United Nations Mission "UNAMI " and the Parliamentary Commission on Human Rights, and sponsored by Iraqi Parliament Speaker on the International Day for Tolerance, under the title of "Rights of Minorities in Iraq, Reality and Ambition", Patriarch Sako said the reality of the situation in Iraq is still concerning.

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He added that it is regrettable that the security situation has deteriorated over the past months and bombings and assassinations are carried out on an almost daily basis. Effective forces on the ground have surfaced to employ this reality to promote divisions on a sectarian basis, and it seems that regional and international powers are pushing to keep the situation miserable in the region. This constitutes a source of real concern for national peace and security and all citizens in general, he said.

"It is unfortunate that some embassies are facilitating migration of Christians, which impoverishes the country of their skills and weakens their brothers who want to stay and communicate. The spread of a culture of majority and minority is unfortunate, because it is a political term that implies a kind of exclusion and marginalization at the expense of equal citizenship, especially as it affects the rights of minorities. That is why one should open eyes wide to understand this painful, frightening and disturbing reality."

He praised the role of religious leaders in Iraq, describing it as "unique."

"Religious leaders in Iraq have a unique, irreplaceable role in uniting the community, and that there is a vital need for cooperation of religious groups together," he said, "in promoting a culture of dialogue and peace in tangible ways to disseminate a culture of recognition and acceptance of the other, and respect for their dignity and rights, and consolidation of citizenship values and peaceful coexistence."

The patriarch added that a culture of peace is a culture of co-sponsorship. He called on everyone to interact with the government to exchange ideas and suggestions on taking practical action to strengthen the concept of dialogue and confidence-building, and promotion of a culture of just peace and values of human dignity, human rights, citizenship, goodness, freedom and democracy.

He described the small components of Iraq - Christians, Mandaeans and Yazidis - as an essential part of the Iraqi and Levantine national fabric, pointing out that they have shared with others this historical presence based on co-existence, love, solidarity, openness and rejection of sectarianism and violence.

He also called on everyone, Muslims, Christians, Sabians, Yazidis, Arabs, Kurds, Turkmen and Caldo-Assyrians and Shabak to work hand in hand and as one family in order to experience citizenship in peace and joy for the good of the citizens and the country.

The number of Christians in Iraq has declined after the war of 2003 from 1.5 million to half a million, according to unofficial statistics because of attacks in different areas of Iraq, especially in Mosul, Baghdad and Kirkuk.

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