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Iraqi Christian Survivor in France: I Don’t Want to Go Back

ICC Note:

Thirty-six Christians who survived a terrorist attack in a Baghdad church that killed forty-four worshippers were offered medical care and asylum in France. The Christian Post reports that they do not want to return to their unstable homeland.

By Michelle A. Vu

12/6/2010 Iraq, France (The Christian Post) – Iraqi Christians who were given indefinite political asylum in France say they don’t want to return to their home country.

Thirty-six Iraqi Christians who survived the attack on Our Lady of Salvation Church in Baghdad were taken to Paris last month where they were given medical care and asylum.

Some survivors still had bullet or shrapnel wounds and were immediately taken to hospitals to be treated upon deplaning, reported France 24 on Monday. Lyes, who survived a bullet wound in his abdomen, said he wants to stay in France and try to bring his wife and two children over to start a new life.

“I don’t want to go back to Iraq so long as the situation is like that. It keeps getting worse and worse,” said Lyes to the France 24 news crew while lying in his hospital bed. “Since getting to France I’ve seen on TV that there have been other attacks on Christians in Iraq. After going for the churches, they are now attacking Christians in their own homes.”

He recalled the traumatic incident on Oct. 31 when gunmen perpetrated the deadliest attack against the Assyrian Christian community since Islamic extremists began targeting them in 2003. At least 58 people were killed during the massacre, including three Catholic priests.

“They came in suddenly, shooting in all directions,” recalled Lyes. “We heard explosions outside. There was panic. We didn’t know what was going on. I don’t know who shot me. The bullet hit me from behind and came out here right in the front. I felt a burning sensation in my stomach and I put my hand over it and I could feel I was bleeding. That is when I knew I had been shot.”

Other Iraqi Assyrian Christians lucky enough to go to France and be given a fast pass in the immigration process are, however, unsure if they will stay or return to Iraq.

Attacks on the tiny and defenseless Christian community in Iraq has been unrelenting since Oct. 31. The latest attack occurred Sunday when gunmen shot and killed an elderly Christian couple in their home in eastern Baghdad. Weeks earlier, a six-year-old girl and her Christian father were killed in the northern city of Mosul and two Christian men were killed in their living room in the same city.

The Islamic State of Iraq, an umbrella group for Sunni Islamic insurgent groups that include al-Qaida in Iraq, has claimed responsibility for the Oct. 31 and the Nov. 10 attacks that killed another five people in several Christian neighborhoods in Baghdad.

There are only about 600,000 Christians in Iraq now, down from about 1.2 million before the U.S-led invasion in 2003, by some estimates. Most of the Iraqis have fled to nearby countries including Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and Turkey.

Although Christians compose only three percent of Iraq’s 26 million people, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees noted, they make up nearly half of the refugees fleeing Iraq.

“We are not going to apologize for welcoming Christians,” said Eric Besson, former minister for immigration and national identity, to France 24. “Of course it is normal to, given the history of France and Europe.”

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