Half of Iraqi Asylum Seekers are Christians, UN Agency Says

12/8/2005 4:44:26 AM

Damascus, 7 Dec. (AKI/DAWN) - A report by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, has revealed that almost half of the Iraqi refugees in Syria who have asked for temporary asylum through the UN refugee agency are Christians. The document stated that 500,000 Iraqi refugees have been registered by the UNHCR in Syria, 22,000 of which are in Damascus. Syria is the only country that has left its borders open to Iraqi refugees.

The UNHCR report stressed that "half of the registered refugees profess the Christian faith, eventhough Christians represent only 5 percent of the population."

Among the reasons cited in the report for his high percentage of Christians among refugees, is the fear stemming from attacks against churches in various Iraqi cities. Other reasons that have prompted many Iraqis to flee to Syria include to escape arrest and violence, accusations that they have collaborated with the Americans and possible kidnappings.

Most of the Christians in Iraq belong to the Assyrian and Chaldean Catholic denominations. Others groups include Syrian Orthodox or protestants. During Saddam's secular regime they were free to worship - one of the regimes most prominent Christian members was deputy prime minister Tareq Aziz.

Since the US-led invasion, growing religious intolerance and sectarian violence have prompted many Iraqi Christians to flee abroad.