John Newton, ACN United Kingdom
Montreal, August 7th, 2014 – Following the fall of Iraq’s largest Christian town late last night (6th-7th August) the leader of Iraq’s biggest Catholic community has made an impassioned plea for help to the international community.
In an open letter Patriarch Louis Raphael I Sako described the humanitarian crisis that followed the seizure of Qaraqosh by jihadist group ISIS (now calling itself the Islamic State) after Kurdish Peshmerga soldiers withdrew. Patriarch Sako said: “The Christians, about one hundred thousand, horrified and panicked fled their villages and houses with nothing but with the clothes on their backs.”
Describing the event as “an exodus, a real via crucis” he went on to add: “Christians are walking on foot in Iraq’s searing summer heat towards the Kurdish cities of Erbil, Duhok and Soulaymiyia, the sick, the elderly, infants and pregnant women among them. “They are facing a human catastrophe and risk a real genocide. They need, water, food, shelter…”
Patriarch Sako called on the international community to intervene in the current crisis – as he accused the Iraqi government of being unable to restore security in the Ninevah Plains. He said: “We appeal with sadness and pain to the conscience of all, and all people of good will and the United Nations and the European Union, to save these innocent persons from death. We hope it is not too late!”
Not only did the head of the Chaldean Catholic Church state that “the Central Government is incapable of enforcing law and order in this part of the country” but expressed “doubts about the capacity of the Kurdistan Region alone to defend the fierce advance of the jihadists”, describing a lack of cooperation between central government and the Kurdish regional authority.
Patriarch Sako also said “international support and a professional, well equipped army” was key to protecting citizens from ISIS attack. Pope Francis echoed the patriarch’s plea for the international community to help Iraq’s Christian refugees. A statement issued by Vatican spokesman Fr Federico Lombardi read: “His Holiness urgently calls on the international community to protect all those affected or threatened by the violence, and to guarantee all necessary assistance – especially the most urgently needed aid – to the great multitude of people who have been driven from their homes, whose fate depends entirely on the solidarity of others.”
Aid to the Church in Need has provided 146 000 $ in emergency aid to help displaced families on the Nineveh Plains.