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Christian refugees probably will not return to Iraq, bishops say

ICC Note

“Constitutional rights and equality have not been provided for Christians and that is a major reason why Christians will not go back and why people continue to leave and go to the West and the United States,”

By Carol Glatz

01/30/2009 Iraq (CNS) — Despite signs of a new season of hope on the horizon in Iraq , the vast majority of Iraqi Christian refugees will probably not return to their homeland, said two U.S.-based Chaldean Catholic bishops.

“No one in the United States will go back to Iraq or the Middle East because the future for children, (opportunities for) education and life are better here,” said Chaldean Bishop Ibrahim N. Ibrahim.

Also, experience has shown that once people have overcome the initial difficulties of adapting to a new culture, “no one will convince them to change it again” and rip up those freshly laid roots, said Chaldean Bishop Sarhad Y. Jammo.

“Constitutional rights and equality have not been provided for Christians and that is a major reason why Christians will not go back and why people continue to leave and go to the West and the United States ,” he said.

The constitution establishes Islam as a main source of legislation and declares that no law may contradict Islamic and democratic standards.

However, while there is freedom to worship, there is no full freedom of religion such as the freedom to change one’s religion, Bishop Jammo said.

Nonetheless, there is “a new season of hope” for Iraq , said Bishop Jammo.

“People are tired of fighting. Either the destructive elements have diminished or been crushed, but they’re fading away gradually,” he said.

“I don’t see anyone (who) will repeat such brutal acts as we saw two or three years ago,” he added.

But the approaching calm has come with a high price, he said.

For example, after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, the southern Iraqi city of Basra experienced tremendous civil strife.

Seventy percent of the Christians, as well as countless Sunni Muslims, fled the Shiite-majority city, said the bishop.

He said, “it was a big mistake” on the part of the United States and the interim Iraqi government not to have protected the country’s Christians and promoted their “political and cultural leverage.”

Even though Christians in Iraq have always been a small minority, they were part of “the top elite of society” and made up 25 percent of the country’s professional class, he said.

Christians are also “a factor for peace and for national reconciliation because they don’t have militias, they don’t fight, and they don’t claim more rights” than they are due, he said.

He said Christians act as “a soft joint between tensions” within a multiethnic, religiously diverse community — sort of like cartilage that cushions hard bones.

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