CCCB Asks Prime Minister Harper to Help Iraqi Christians
The Right Honourable Stephen Harper, P.C., M.P.
Prime Minister of Canada
80 Wellington Street
Dear Mr. Prime Minister:
According to information received by the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops from Church authorities, which includes a message of deep concern by Pope Benedict XVI issued on 11 January 2008 and a condemnation the same day by the Imam of Kirkuk concerning attacks of this nature which he called contrary to Islam, Christian communities in Iraq are facing ever increasing violence. Over the past two years, Christians have been living with assassinations, kidnappings and threats, and are not receiving protection from military or political authorities. There have already been four such attacks in 2008, including those of 6 and 9 January when Christians were targeted in Baghdad, Mosul and Kirkuk. This past June, a Chaldean Catholic priest and three subdeacons were murdered in Mosul. In addition, two churches have been attacked in Dora, south of Bagdad. The situation is forcing many Christians to flee Iraq in order to seek refuge in Jordan, Syria or Lebanon in the hope of receiving visas for the West or for northern Kurdistan.
The problem confronting Christians in Iraq is essentially one of exclusion. National extremists are demanding that Christians convert to Islam; if they do not, they are considered in effect to have abandoned their property and their country. Christians are no longer able to practise their faith, women are obliged to wear the veil and crucifixes are being removed from churches. Those choosing exile are truly political refugees. They would like to go back to their homes, but at least for them any hope of a return to peace and harmony between Iraqi Christians and Muslims seems unattainable.
Canada has been and continues to be a haven for many political refugees from around the world. Nevertheless, since the events of 11 September 2001, it seems the emphasis has been on increasing security measures, and Canada has become less welcoming to those seeking asylum. While the Canadian government no doubt has valid reasons for adopting this approach, the Catholic Bishops of Canada request that you intervene so particular attention at least can be given to Iraqi Christians who are approaching Canadian consulates for visas.
It is tragic to note that such situations continue in today’s world. As Bishops, we are aware that Canada has not only continued but even increased its diplomatic interventions in an attempt to influence political leaders who contravene human rights and resort to violence to achieve their own ends. Despite inertia and indifference in some parts of the world, Canada can help ease the sufferings of those who are victims of injustice and irrational retaliations. Certainly Iraqi Christians are among these victims.
At the same time as welcoming a recent announcement by the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration promising to expedite family sponsorships of Iraqi refugees, we respectfully recommend additional resources be provided in the visa application process so the handling of family class applications does not slow down the refugee sponsorship cases. We also urge that family reunification not be the only response to the Iraqi refugee crisis, and that the Canadian government consider setting additional target numbers for Iraqi refugees, such as during the Kosovo crisis as well as during the war in Sierra Leone.
Some 20 Catholic dioceses have sponsorship agreements with the federal government and are ready to assist Iraqi refugees, in addition to other Canadian communities and agencies that would also be prepared to be sponsors, but the Government of Canada needs to open up opportunities so these resources can be mobilized.
In the hope, Mr. Prime Minister, that your government will show leadership among the democratic nations and take the initiative in alleviating the sufferings of all Iraqi citizens seeking asylum, we ask you to do what you can for Canadian consular officials to be attentive to Iraqi refugee needs and ready to assist their efforts to begin a new life in the security of our country.
Most Reverend V. James Weisgerber
Archbishop of Winnipeg
Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops