Lucky few Iraqi Christians find refuge in France

Thu Dec 30, 2010 2:16pm GMT
 

By Nick Vinocur

PARIS (Reuters) - A French mission to rescue victims of a church massacre in Baghdad has raised questions about the fairness of such operations, with rights groups calling for the rescue of all Iraq's threatened groups, not just Christians.

Two months after gunmen burst into the Syrian Catholic cathedral of Our Lady of Salvation during Sunday mass and killed 52 people, some of the victims are recovering near Paris thanks to an airlift by the French government.

Father Rafael Quteimi, a 70-year-old Catholic priest, was shot in the stomach and his hearing was damaged by the gunfire and grenade blasts.

He and 36 members of his congregation arrived in early November aboard a medically equipped plane dispatched by France's foreign ministry. They were given medical treatment and are now living at a shelter near Paris. A total of 150 are expected.

"If France had not sent a plane for us, we would still be there, in danger," Quteimi said.

But the group are an exceptional and tiny minority among thousands of Christians from cities such as Baghdad and Mosul who have sought refuge in the northern Iraqi region of Kurdistan or neighbouring countries.

In the six weeks after the attack, the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR said some 1,000 Christian families, roughly 6,000 people, had fled to Iraqi Kurdistan from Baghdad, Mosul and other areas.

While the threats to them have become more frequent at home, Western countries have grown more reluctant to welcome victims of the unpopular war in Iraq.   Continued...

<p>Iraqi policemen stand guard outside the Catholic cathedral of Our Lady of Salvation, where gunmen killed 52 in October, in Baghdad, in this picture taken November 1, 2010. A French mission to rescue victims of the church massacre in Baghdad has raised questions about the fairness of such operations, with rights groups calling for the rescue of all Iraq's threatened groups, not just Christians. REUTERS/Mohammed Amee</p>
 
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