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Iraq Trying To Retain Its Minority Communities

Mass at a church in Irbil, Iraq. Nearly hald the Christian community has fled the country since 2003.
Mass at a church in Irbil, Iraq. Nearly hald the Christian community has fled the country since 2003.
BAGHDAD -- An Iraqi minister says Baghdad wants to discourage emigration by its minority groups and has urged other countries not to accept asylum seekers from these communities, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq (RFI) reports.

Emigration and Displacement Minister Abdel Samad Sultan told RFI on June 23 that his ministry has asked the European Union, the United States, and Australia to refuse applications for asylum by members of Iraqi minorities in order to preserve the country's ethnic and religious diversity.

Sultan said Iraq should remain a country distinctly marked by a mosaic of peacefully coexisting communities and not lose this characteristic.

Hasan Shabaan, chairman of the Iraqi Human Rights Organization, told RFI that the Iraqi government's request for other countries to deny asylum to members of minority groups "runs counter to the Iraqi Constitution and universal human rights."

He added that the constitution guarantees the individual's right to live anywhere he or she chooses.

Sultan said that Iraq has also appealed to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and the international community as a whole to help minority groups stay in the country while the government intensifies its efforts to provide better protection for them and discourage them from emigrating.

He said that while extending considerable support for returnees to rebuild their lives at home, the Iraqi government is opposed to their forcible deportation, which he said is conducted by some European countries. He said such treatment is "inhuman and in contravention of international norms."

Father Shlaimon Wardooni of the Virgin Mary Church in Baghdad told RFI that "it is difficult to ask members of Iraq's minority groups to stay in the absence of stability, security, jobs, and the rule of law."

The cleric said "we know that our people and all Iraqis who flee the country encounter hardships in the host countries, but many of them argue that there is at least peace and stability."

Christians, Yazidis, and other religious minorities in Iraq have often been the target of bomb attacks and other violence by Islamic insurgent groups.

The UNHCR estimates that since 2003, some 250,000 to 500,000 Christians -- about half the total number in Iraq -- have left the country.