Christians in Syria and Iraq do not want to be seen as victims – Open Doors campaigns for a better future for this ANCIENT COMMUNITY
The First Minister 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 global campaign spearheaded by Open Doors, an anti–persecution charity supporting persecuted Christians in Iraq, Syria and other Middle Eastern countries.
Launching the report the First Minister, Arlene Foster 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.”
For the first time in the charity’s 60–year history it is mobilising people from across the globe to give and speak out, as well as taking the campaign to Christians who are themselves victims of persecution in other parts of the world. Open Doors UK&I President, Eddie Lyle, and Head of Advocacy at Open Doors UK&I, Zoe Smith, also spoke at the event, providing insight and analysis regarding the plight of Christians in the Middle East.
Open Doors CEO Lisa Pearce said, “Anyone who has listened to the news coverage and heard the terrible stories told by refugees and those internally displaced but still living in Syria and Iraq will know that there is a common thread: they want to return home and rebuild their lives and their country. Many have stayed as long as they possibly could before leaving. Those who are still there want a future for themselves and their children. People tell us that they want minorities to be recognised, valued and empowered for the role they want to play in shaping a tolerant, secular society for the future.
“Many are hopeful this will happen, but they need help to achieve this goal. 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. But Open Doors can only do this with the help of others – we need people to sign the campaign petition to make the UN act and we need them to give so we can expand our work and help people rebuild their lives and their country.
Lisa Pearce said that the report, which was released in Westminster on 12 October, highlighted that “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. 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.”
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 is aiming for a million people to sign the petition globally, and it has already been signed by 33,000 people from 54 countries around the world.
Open Doors is also asking supporters to give generously and aims to raise £2 million this year to support Christians in Syria and Iraq. Open Doors partners are supporting thousands of families each month in Syria, Iraq and Lebanon with vital aid such as food, medicines, trauma care and schooling, as well as through long–term projects such as loans for small businesses.
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 priest 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 them (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