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EU Presidency Rebuffs Germany's Call to Shelter Iraqi Christians

The European Union's Slovenian presidency rejected a German proposal to offer preferential treatment to Christian refugees from Iraq, insisting that asylum decisions could not be based on religion.

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Half a million Christians are estimated to be still living in Iraq

"I think the right of asylum should be provided without consideration of religion or race," said Slovenian Interior Minsiter Dragutin Mate upon his arrival at a meeting of his EU counterparts in Luxembourg on Friday, April 18.

"It seems to me to be difficult to operate in this sense" of preferential treatment," he added.

Deutschland Verfassungsschutzbericht Wolfgang Schäuble

Schaeuble is concerned about the situation of Iraqi Christians

German Interior Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble had been given the green light from the country's 16 top state security officials to start an EU initiative for the acceptance of Iraqi Christians as refugees at the meeting in Luxembourg.

He said an improvement to the situation of Iraqi Christians was "desperately necessary."

No details of Schaeuble's plans were made public, nor was it clear how many refugees Germany would accept, although German press reports have said that the conservatives' plan would allow for for 30,000 Iraqi Christians to be sheltered in the country.

The Social Democrats -- Merkel's partners in her ruling coalition -- said they gave their backing to the proposal but were also uncomfortable with the decision to focus on Christians.

A difficult path

Ministertreffen in Luxemburg - Zypries

German Justice Minister Brigitte Zypries (left) was somewhat reserved about the proposal

Justice Minister Brigitte Zypries, a Social Democrat, warned that there could be legal obstacles to singling out a religious group for help.

"It's a difficult path when you start saying that we're accepting somebody because of their religious conviction," she said.

Berlin Interior Minister Erhart Koerting, also of the SPD, cautioned against focusing exclusively on Christians and suggested adopting a broader approach.

"We decided to give Schaeuble's party carte blanche but for my part this does not mean

explicitly that it only has to be aimed at Christians," Koerting said.

"What we need to do is to offer supplementary protection to religious minorities who are particularly vulnerable."

Minority in Iraq

Baptism ceremony in an Iraqi church

200,000 Christians have left Iraq since the US-led invasion

The Eastern Catholic Chaldeans make up the main Christian presence in Iraq.

Before the US-led invasion in 2003, Iraq's Christian community numbered around 800,000 members, or 3 percent of the population. Today, it's estimated that some 500,000 Christians are left in the country.

Most Iraqi Christians live in the northern Kurdish region.

More than 4,000 Iraqis asked for asylum in Germany last year, according to Schaeuble.

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