143 countries sign a petition calling for a better deal for Christians and other minorities in the Middle East

Conservative MP Dame Caroline Spelman and Labour MP Kate Green are today (Wednesday 13 December) championing the Open Doors Hope for the Middle East petition signed by over 750,000 people from 143* countries, asking the UK government and the United Nations to ensure that Middle Eastern Christians and other minorities enjoy the right to equal citizenship, dignified living conditions and a prominent role in reconciling and rebuilding their society.

Over 165,000 people from the UK and Ireland have signed the petition, along with over 200,000 people from the Middle East itself, and there are even signatures from people who come from countries such as North Korea, Afghanistan, Chile and Zimbabwe.

Rt Hon Dame Caroline Spelman MP commented, “Despite decades of persecution, the church in the Middle East is uniquely placed to bring hope to their wider communities. We in the UK and elsewhere must stand alongside them as they seek to do this, and work tirelessly to secure a future for all people, no matter what their faith, in the Middle East.”

Kate Green MP said, “In the face of the situation in Iraq and Syria it is easy to feel helpless. But I can feel confident in my support for the work that Open Doors does – persecution should never be ignored. This campaign provides concrete actions which we, as UK politicians, should act upon.”

The petition is part of the Hope for the Middle East campaign, launched by Open Doors in partnership with Middle East Concern. The seven year campaign aims to unite people around the world to ensure that every person in the Middle East, regardless of their faith, has a home, a future and a voice. As part of this, Open Doors asked people to sign the Hope for the Middle East petition, which calls upon governments around the world and the United Nations to:

  • Ensure that the current and future legal frameworks in Syria and Iraq fully promote and protect the equal and inalienable rights of all their citizens, irrespective of race, religion or other status
  • To ensure the dignified and continued improvement of living conditions for all citizens, but especially returning refugees and the internally displaced – giving them access to  housing, education and jobs
  • To identify and equip religious leaders and faith-based organisations to play a constructive and central role in reconciling and rebuilding both Syrian and Iraqi societies.

Lisa Pearce, CEO of Open Doors UK and Ireland said, “With 80%** of Christians having left Iraq and 85% of Christian being forced out of Aleppo in Syria, it is unthinkable that Islamic extremism should drive the church from the Middle East – the birthplace of Christianity. The King of Jordan has said that Christians are the glue that hold the Middle East together. Diversity counters extremism. Christians and other religious minorities have been systematically persecuted across the Middle East and forced to become refugees. Once the hostilities are over and countries begin to rebuild it is vital that Christians and other religious minorities are included and play a key role in the restoration and reconciliation of their nations to ensure a homogenous, equal society.”

Father Daniel, an Iraqi priest who fled from Islamist extremists, and Foreign Office Minister Alistair Burt, will brief MPs and Peers on the crisis facing Christians and other religious minorities in the Middle East at an afternoon meeting in the House of Commons.

Father Daniel, who now works with refugee children in Erbil, said, “From when I was born until now, all I have known is war, war, war. I hope that today’s children will have a life without any wars and without any weapons. They need peace. I was very glad to present this petition to the UK government and speak up for Christians in the Middle East. I want the children in my Sunday school to have a better future and to be properly and equally included in their society.”

Father Daniel, 27, was born during the Gulf War and was a teenager living in Baghdad when Al-Qaida threatened his family. In 2006 he was forced to flee to Erbil or be killed for his Christian faith. He devoted his ministry to the displaced children who arrived in Erbil after Mosul fell to so-called Islamic State (IS) militants in 2014.

The Hope for the Middle East petition was presented at the United Nations in New York on Monday 11 December by Noeh, a 12-year-old Iraqi boy who was forced to flee from his home when IS invaded his village. Nearly four years later, IS have been driven out and his family have returned to rebuild their burnt out house and to create a future in their beloved village. Noeh was granted a visa to travel from Iraq to the US to present the petition. Noeh’s family are typical of many who suffered appalling trauma but want to return, rebuild and see reconciliation between different groups in Iraq, with the ultimate goal of people from all religions living harmoniously side by side.

Beth F

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