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Germany

Germany Feels Pressure to Aid More Christian Iraqis

Germany is debating whether to give visas to more Iraqi Christian refugees, given their widespread mistreatment at home. But some argue that singling out one minority is unfair.

Iraqi Christians pray during a Sunday mass, in Baghdad, Iraq, Sunday Sept.17, 2006.

Iraq once had 1.4 million Christians, but numbers have shrunk dramatically

Five years after Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein was ousted, the Sunni and Shiite Muslim communities seem to be united on at least one front -- their hatred of Christians.

Germany's Catholic and Protestant churches are alarmed about rising sectarian violence being committed against Christians in Iraq. Bombed churches, beheaded clergymen, and massacres of women and children: According to observers, the very existence of this religious minority, which has been settled in Iraq for nearly 2,000 years, is threatened.

Elderly Iraqi Christian puts money in a donation box at a Catholic Church after a Sunday mass in Baghdad

Giving alms is a Christian value, in Iraq as elsewhere

As a result, German churches are calling on the government to open the borders for persecuted Christians from Iraq.

Worsening situation for Christians

"The churches ask for a relevant number of Christians and other non-Muslim religious groups," said Nele Allenberg, a legal expert from Germany's Protestant Church.

"There are around 180,000 Christian refugees in Iraq's neighboring countries -- that is Syria, Jordan and also Turkey. Germany would have to take in a big part of these people, meaning 20,000 to 30,000 people," Allenberg said.

She said the situation for Iraqi Christians today is significantly worse than before Saddam Hussein was ousted from power five years ago, when the country's Christians lived peacefully side by side with Sunni and Shiite Muslims.

Now Christians tend to be associated with American and British invaders, who many Muslims believed would be waging a modern-day crusade against Islam.

Officials at the U.N. Higher Commissioner for Refugees speaks with Iraqi refugees in Syria during a tour by the U.N. Higher Commissioner for refugees Antonio Guterres on Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2008. Syria is home to some 1.5 million Iraqis

Syria has been flooded with Iraqi Christian refugees

The chairman of the Council of the Protestant Church in Germany, Bishop Wolfgang Huber, made a similar point in his Good Friday prayers. He named the atrocities that have been visited upon Iraqi Christians and noted: "The constitution allows all religious groups, so on paper the situation should be better. But actually the situation is worse."

Greens: 'We have to help everybody'

Negotiations are underway within the German government and parliament, to sort out numbers and procedures for such a resettlement program, and there is political consensus that swift action is urgently needed.

But some warn that Christians are not the only ones suffering, and say they should not be singled out in a time of humanitarian crisis.

Germany's Green party endorses the plan, but says opening the gates only for Christians is hypocritical. Volker Beck, a senior Green party lawmaker, criticized Germany's ruling coalition for being willing to take in Christians from Iraq, but not other refugees.

"We have to help everybody who is persecuted and cannot say these are our Christian brothers and sisters, and for others with a different identity we don't care," Beck said.

The churches say they share this view, but that first they have to push for what can be achieved politically.

An Iraqi man is helped from rubble outside a church after a car bomb attack in Baghdad, Iraq on Sunday, 01 August 2004.

Churches in Iraq have suffered bombing attacks

Meanwhile, Iraqi Christians warn that time is running out, as refugees in countries bordering on Iraq are under mounting pressure to return home to a hostile environment.

Those Iraqi Christians who have made it to Germany -- often after great travails -- are hoping the state of legal limbo they are currently in will soon come to an end.

Refugees face long road, live in fear

Aida, a 39-year-old refugee who did not want to disclose her full name, said she is still fearful even though she has been out of Iraq for two years. She arrived in Germany after a long trip via Turkey and Greece.

She's afraid that more of her relatives will share the brutal fate of one of her cousins, who was killed by a mob of Muslim youngsters in the streets of Baghdad.

"They killed him and left him in the street," Aida said. "After that I decided to leave my country and come here, because my father and my mother, and my sisters are here."

Under EU rules, however, they are illegal aliens and would have to leave Germany.



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