Churches Urge Australia’s Leaders to Recognize Iraq’s Humanitarian Crisis

12/9/2007 11:40:00 AM

A statement from Australian national heads of Churches

We, the undersigned heads of Australia’s Churches, wish to draw attention to the rapidly deteriorating humanitarian crisis in Iraq and the surrounding region.

Australia has a moral responsibility to help protect Iraqi civilians and those displaced by the violence. The current debate, however, has focused almost exclusively on whether Australian troops should be in Iraq. Scant recognition has been given to the scale of the humanitarian crisis that now confronts the Middle East.

Australia’s leaders must recognize that Iraq is hemorrhaging. Since the bombing of the Askariya Shrine in Samarra in February last year, the violence has increased exponentially. 4.2 million Iraqis have now fled their homes – 2 million internally and 2.2 million in neighboring countries, mainly Syria and Jordan. There are now more displaced people than the region has seen since the 1948 Palestinian exodus. Each month, another 50,000 Iraqis flee Iraq and it is estimated that up to another 3 million people may be displaced.

With the closure of the Syrian border to Iraqis – the last to have remained open – and with 11 out of Iraq’s 18 provinces now denying entry to displaced Iraqis fleeing violence internally, Iraqi civilians have virtually nowhere to escape. Conditions inside Iraq are also deteriorating as humanitarian access declines. 23% of children in Southern Iraq now have ‘chronic’ malnutrition.

While the international community has pledged billions of dollars for recovery and development programs, these pledges are of little use until the situation has stabilized.

In this context, we ask that the Australian Government:

  1. Significantly increase aid to Iraq’s internally displaced people and Iraqi refugees in Jordan and Syria to alleviate the burden of support placed on these host countries and encourage them to continue to provide protection to Iraqis fleeing their homeland, and;
  2. Ensure that adequate funds are available for later repatriation, reintegration, reconstruction and development to support Iraq’s internally displaced people and Iraqi refugees in the region that will eventually wish to return home.

Signed by:

  • The Most Reverend Phillip Aspinall (Primate, Anglican Church)
  • His Eminence Archbishop Aghan Baliozian (Primate, Armenian Apostolic Church)
  • The Revd Robert Benn (Moderator General, Presbyterian Church)
  • Bishop Albert Chiew (Bishop, Chinese Methodist Church)
  • The Revd Dr Ross Clifford (President, Baptist Union)
  • His Grace Bishop Daniel (Bishop, Coptic Orthodox Church)
  • Lyndsay Farrall (Presiding Clerk, Religious Society of Friends)
  • The Revd Allan Filipaina (Moderator, Congregational Federation)
  • The Revd Gregor Henderson (President, Uniting Church)
  • His Grace Bishop Irinej (Bishop, Serbian Orthodox Church)
  • His Eminence Archbishop Mor Malatius Malki (Archbishop, Syrian Orthodox Church)
  • Mr Richard Menteith (President, Churches of Christ)
  • The Revd Dr Mike Semmler (President, Lutheran Church)
  • His Grace Bishop Suriel (Bishop, Coptic Orthodox Church)
  • The Most Revd Philip Wilson (President, Australian Catholic Bishops Conference)
  • His Grace Bishop Mar Meelis Zaia (Bishop, Assyrian Church of the East)