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Iraqi Christian refugees pine for home, but fear they face death

ICC Note

“Christians and other minorities are paying the price for the Iraq war,”

By Annegret Kapp

05/07/2008 Iraq (ENI)- Iraqi Christians who have taken refuge in Syria yearn to go home, but the intimidation they faced in Iraq makes it difficult to return.

“Although I had been threatened many times in Iraq , I did not want to leave,” says the Armenian Orthodox hairdresser Cayran Vartan Roupen. “But then my shop was burnt and the car of my husband, who used to work as a driver, was stolen. So we left everything behind and fled.”

When church leaders from around the world visited Syria in April, Iraqis who had fled their homes and their community for the hard life of refugees, said they felt a need to tell their stories to those they hope are empowered to assist in bringing an end to their tragedy.

The church representatives heard stories of suffering in Iraq , and hospitality in Syria . They heard about the pain of living in Iraq and eventually leaving. They heard of the strain the influx of 1.5 million Iraqi refugees has placed on the economy of Syria , creating the need for jobs, safety and security, despite the unanswered questions of “what’s next” for the Iraqis.

Samira said that one day, when she was still in Iraq , she went shopping with her daughter. “Three gunmen stopped us. They pushed my daughter around and asked her why she was in the street without a veil. Since then, she did not want to leave home and she dropped out of university.”

The Christian refugees said that in Iraq they had experienced that belonging to a religious minority is dangerous. “Christians and other minorities are paying the price for the Iraq war,” said Laham, the ecumenical officer of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate. “They are suspected of being traitors and of helping the allied forces, as if they were not an original part of the social fabric and had not shared the bread with their Muslim brothers for centuries.”

Aram , who belonged to the Armenian Orthodox Church in Baghdad , said: “My wife and I knew some Christians who were killed. As our numbers were on their mobile phones, their murderers used them to call and threaten us.”

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