4 August 2016

Two years after Christians fled the Nineveh plains, Iraqi Christians say they want to stay and rebuild Iraq

Two years after thousands of Christians were forced to flee their homes in the Nineveh plains by the self-proclaimed Islamic State, Iraqi Christians and church leaders have spoken to persecution charity Open Doors about their desire to remain in Iraq and play a vital role in rebuilding their nation.

After eight months of extensive consultation with Christians and church leaders in Iraq, as well as in Syria, Open Doors has collaborated with Middle East Concern, Served and the University of East London to create a report, ‘Hope for the Middle East', outlining how Christians in the region view their role in society.

The report describes the significant contributions that Christians have made to the region in areas such as healthcare, business, culture and welfare across the centuries, since Saint Thomas first brought Christianity to Iraq, according to church tradition. One Iraqi Christian is quoted as saying, "I want my fellow Iraqis to know that we are not guests in Iraq. Our ancestors built this country. Treat me as a sister, not as a guest."

The church continues to play a vital role in Iraqi society, as is clearly demonstrated by the support the church in Iraq has provided to thousands of displaced people, from providing basics such as shelter and food, to long term support including trauma care and micro-loans. The report quotes another Iraqi, a church leader, as saying, "Christians are helping Muslims, Yazidis, Sabeans… everyone. We're not just for us, but we're for the broken, the weak. We give our hand and listen to the other."

Open Doors has worked with many churches and local partners in Iraq to help provide this support, thanks to the generous giving of supporters across the globe.

When asked how they want to see their future in the region, the response from Christians in Syria and Iraq fell broadly into three areas: equality, dignity, and responsibility. Christians want to be seen as equal members of society, and for all to have freedom to choose their religion or belief. They want their governments to ensure dignified and continued improvement of living conditions for all, particularly those who have been displaced. And they want religious leaders to be identified and equipped to play a constructive and central role in bringing reconciliation to their societies.

Open Doors UK and Ireland will launch the Hope for the Middle East report in parliament on 12 October, with recommendations for how the UK government can speak and act on behalf of the church in the Middle East. Open Doors is asking supporters to invite their MP to the event.

Zoe Smith, Head of Advocacy for Open Doors UK & Ireland, says, "Christians have faced - and continue to face - extreme persecution in Iraq. Yet this report highlights that many who stay have a desire to play a central role in rebuilding their society. It's vital that this untold part of the story is brought into the open so our government not only views Iraqi Christians as victims but as key partners in rebuilding and reconciling their country."

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Note to editors:

For more information or to arrange an interview with Head of Advocacy Zoe Smith, call the Open Doors press office on 01993 777377.

Iraq is number 2 on the Open Doors World Watch List, which ranks the severity of persecution faced by Christians in 50 countries. Open Doors is working through local partners and churches in Iraq to provide trauma training, biblical training for church leaders, crisis relief, socio-economic development projects such as microloans for displaced people, and distributing Bibles and Christian literature.

Open Doors UK & Ireland is part of Open Doors International, a global NGO network which has supported and strengthened persecuted Christians for 60 years. Last year supporters in the UK and Ireland raised over £11.7 million to provide practical support to persecuted Christians such as food, medicines, trauma care, legal assistance, safe houses and schools, as well as spiritual support through Christian literature, training and resources, in over 60 countries.