26 October 2016

NORTHERN IRELAND'S FIRST MINISTER PAYS TRIBUTE TO CHRISTIANS IN SYRIA AND IRAQ AT OPEN DOORS CAMPAIGN LAUNCH

Middle East

The First Minister of Northern Ireland, the Rt Hon. Arlene Foster, has paid tribute to the plight of Christians throughout the Middle East who have chosen to stay in areas of conflict to play their part in building peace, stability and harmony.

The First Minister was launching Hope for the Middle East; a new report and seven-year global campaign spearheaded by persecution charity, Open Doors, which highlights the desire of Christians in Syria and Iraq to be able to stay in their countries with equality, dignity and responsibility.

At the launch in Stormont on Tuesday, which was attended by Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs) and senior church leaders, the First Minister said: "I very much welcome the opportunity to launch this timely report. None of us can fail to be moved by the appalling images coming out of Syria and Iraq, and by the plight of the refugees who are fleeing the most desperate and horrific of circumstances. Many have stayed as long as they possibly can before fleeing for their own safety and that of their family.

"Christians and other minorities in Syria and Iraq have a key role to play in one day helping to shape a new society where all religions are respected. I commend Open Doors for this initiative, which marks the beginning of a seven-year campaign aimed at giving Christians and other minorities the support they need to stay in the Middle East and to play their part in creating a more tolerant and inclusive society."

Also speaking at the launch were Eddie Lyle, Open Doors UK & Ireland President, and Zoe Smith, Head of Advocacy, who provided insight and analysis regarding the plight of Christians in the Middle East: "We believe that the continuing presence of Christians and other ethnic and religious communities in Syria and Iraq is key to maintaining this diversity, which is a prerequisite for sustainable peace and lasting stability in the region," said Zoe Smith. "This report, alongside the concluding recommendations, are the cry of the Christian community in Syria and Iraq to those with influence. They cry to you, not only to listen but to do all you can in support of their rights and their future."

As well as mobilising leaders and supporters from across the globe to speak out for persecuted Christians in the Middle East, for the first time in the charity's 60-year history, Open Doors is taking the campaign to Christians who are themselves victims of persecution in other parts of the world.

Open Doors CEO UK and Ireland, Lisa Pearce, explains: "Open Doors is asking everyone to sign a global petition asking for equal rights for Christians and other minorities that will be presented to the UN in June 2017… Christians in Syria and Iraq have clearly stated that they do not want to be seen as victims, and that they believe they have a vital role to play in the rebuilding of their countries and in the future of the Middle East just as they played a vital role in the culture, history and economies of their countries in the past."

The petition was created after eight months of consultation with Christians and church leaders in Syria and Iraq, and asks the UN to ensure:

  • Christians' and other minorities' right to equal citizenship
  • Dignified living conditions
  • A role in reconciliation and rebuilding society.

Open Doors, which supports thousands of believers from Syria and Iraq every month with vital aid and long-term support, is aiming for one million people to sign the petition globally. So far, it has already been signed by 33,000 people from 54 countries around the world.

Middle East

As well as the petition, Open Doors is aiming to raise £2 million this year to support Christians in Syria and Iraq. "Open Doors is there on the ground working through churches and local partners to provide vital aid, as well as education for children and micro-loans to set up businesses, enabling people to carve out a livelihood and a sustainable future for themselves," Lisa Pearce explains.

One church in Iraq that is supported by Open Doors was able to set up a sewing factory to provide training and work for displaced people. Suaad*, who was forced to flee her home in Mosul to escape the self-proclaimed Islamic State, has been a tailor all her life and now works there. She says, "The church leader asked me to lead the factory and I took the job. I would have done it voluntarily if needed, but I am happy that I get some money so I can share it with my family.

"In a few weeks I teach [other displaced people] the basics of tailoring. They can use these skills to earn some money for their families here in the factory or elsewhere. Either way, it helps them work toward a future."

In Syria, a new furniture factory was opened with the support of Open Doors in the city of Homs, providing some 30 people with much-needed work. Gabriel*, one of the church leaders involved in starting the project said, "Thank you that there are still people thinking about our city and willing to help us."

*Names with a star denote pseudonyms to protect identity

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Note to editors:

Iraq is number 2 on the Open Doors World Watch List, which ranks the severity of persecution faced by Christians in 50 countries. Syria is number 5. Open Doors is working through local partners and churches in Syria and Iraq to provide crisis relief, trauma training, biblical training for church leaders, 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.