BEIRUT: Lebanon’s ministries will address the growing presence of Iraqi Christians fleeing persecution by the Islamic State, formerly known as ISIS, Social Affairs Minister Rashid Derbas said in remarks published Saturday.
"There are no exceptional measures taken with regards to Iraqi Christian refugees given the fact that their situation is different than Syrian refugees,” he told Ash-Sharq al-Awsat.
“The issue will be discussed next Wednesday during a meeting with the Health and Interior ministries.”
He said churches and non-governmental organizations were following up on the situation of the Christian refugees and that “some church and political organizations are exerting efforts to shelter the Christians offer them aid.”
Although the government has not yet issued an official statement about the number of Christian refugees, the spokesperson for the Chaldean Church in Lebanon said some 50 families had recently arrived from Iraq.
Speaking to the pan-Arab daily, Mira Qasarji said the largest number of families had arrived in the past few days and were taking refuge in the Beirut suburb of Burj Hammoud.
Lebanon’s Christian leaders have been outspoken about the situation of Christians in Iraq’s Mosul, where Islamists have forced hundreds to flee their homes. Residents of the historic northern city were given an ultimatum: convert, pay a religious tax or face death.
Meanwhile, the issue of Christians in Iraq has deepened existing divisions between Lebanon’s main rival Christian parties, with the Lebanese Forces Saturday criticizing the Free Patriotic Movement for taking advantage of such a plight.
"Does the movement of intimidation of Christians with ISIS recognize that they are instilling unjustified panic in the Lebanese Christian society in order to have them forget their courageous Eastern history," LF MP Fadi Karam said on his Twitter feed, referring to the Free Patriotic Movement.
He noted that such campaign was aimed at reviving repressive regimes.
FPM member and MP Simon Abi Ramia said ISIS had become a reality and posed a great danger to Lebanon's social fabric.
"Everyone who had tried to escape the reality of extremists has reached a compelling truth that they are now on Lebanese borders and are a great danger to our society,” he told LBCI.
The FPM is allied with Hezbollah, which has justified its military role in Syria by saying it sent fighters to the war-torn country to prevent the infiltration of what it described as radical “takfiri groups.”