by ROWENA OREJANA
AUCKLAND – The Eastern Catholic Churches in New Zealand are asking the government to reinstate an immigration quota specifically for Iraqi Christians who are being persecuted and displaced
in Mosul and nearby areas.
Fr Fawzi Hanna, parish priest of St Addai Chaldean Catholic Church in Papatoe, said the Christians have been given three options by the militant group Islamic State of Iraq and Syria
(ISIS) — to either convert to Islam, pay tribute (Jizya tax) or flee within a certain
period. Otherwise, they will be killed.
“We need help from the government here for the Christian people in Iraq,” he said. “There used to be a quota specifically for Iraqi Christians until 2003. We want to speak to immigration to give back this quota.”
A combined Eastern Catholic Churches Mass was held on August 9 at St Mary’s Church in Manurewa to pray for Christians in Mosul who have been banished from their homes or killed for
their faith. Around 400 people attended.
Another Mass will be held on August 24 in Wellington.
The Eastern Catholic community will also have a Meeting of Solidarity with Iraqi Christians from Mosul on August 30 at St Patrick’s Cathedral, followed by a protest march along Queen St.
There are about 3000 Iraqi Christians in New Zealand.
A spokesman for Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse said refugees from Iraq have consistently been among the highest intake of nationalities in the past few years.
He said in the 2011 to 2012 financial year, there were 113 refugees from Iraq while in the 2012-13 financial year, there were 128. In the past financial year, there were 71.
But Fr Hanna said the problem with the current policy is that it is not geared specifically for Christians. He said the last time an Iraqi Christian family was taken in as refugees in New Zealand was two years ago.
“How many Christians are there? That’s the problem. Because they bring here maybe 90 Muslims and about five or 10 Christians,” he said. “Give us back the quota; that is what we need.”
New Zealand spends around $58 million on resettling refugees each year.Under the Refugee Quota Programme, around 750 refugees are resettled in the country annually.
A statement from the immigration minister’s office said the composition of the refugee quota is agreed to following consultation with the UNHCR, non-governmental organisations, refugee
settlement service providers and existing refugee communities.
It further added although there is no quota specifically for Iraqi Christians, “New Zealand’s annual refugee quota includes places reserved for emergency resettlement from large-scale crisis situations”.
“The Government announced earlier this year that up to 100 refugees in need of urgent protection from the situation in Syria will be resettled in New Zealand under this provision.”
Fr Hanna said they have sent an invitation to Minister Woodhouse to come to the meeting on August 30, but they had not received a reply at the time of this writing.
Chaldean Catholic Meena Amso hoped the New Zealand government will open its doors and offer a home to these people, as Australia and France have done.“Ideally, they [Iraqi Christians]
should really be in their own country.
They’ve been there for thousands of years and they should be there for another thousand. But sadly, they need to go somewhere else. I pray that New Zealand listens and opens the doors to
people who really, really need it,” she said.
Pope Francis, in a letter to United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, condemned the violent persecutions in Iraq and called on the international community to act swiftly and decisively to stop the humanitarian disaster that is taking place.
“The violent attacks that are sweeping across Northern Iraq,” wrote Pope Francis, “cannot but awaken the consciences of all men and women of goodwill to concrete acts of solidarity by
protecting those affected or threatened by violence and assuring the necessary and urgent assistance for the many displaced people as well as their safe return to their cities and their homes.”
The Chaldean Patriarch of Babylon, Louis Raphael Sako, the president of the Assembly of the Catholic Bishops in Iraq, also appealed for international support and a call for arms to protect Christians in Iraq.
“There is a need of international support and a professional, well-equipped army. The situation is going from bad to worse,” he wrote in a letter dated August 7.
“The Isis militants attacked with mortars most of the villages of the plain of Nineveh, during the night of 6-7 of August and now they are controlling the area. The Christians, about one hundred thousand, horrified and panicked fled their villages and houses with nothing
but the clothes on their backs.
“An exodus, a real via crucis, Christians are walking on foot in Iraq’s searing summer heat… they are facing a human catastrophe and risk a real genocide.”
Patriarch Sako further reported that churches and other properties have been desecrated and destroyed.
“We appeal with sadness and pain to the conscience of all and all people of goodwill and the United Nations and the European Union, to save these innocent persons from death. We hope it is not too late!” he said.