BEIRUT: Greek Catholic Patriarch Gregorius Lahham III Tuesday rebuked France’s offer to welcome Iraq's Christians, saying the minority group is instead seeking international effort to help them remain in their land.
“We do need someone to receive us, but we need someone to help us stay in our land. Help us fight terrorism and Takfiri groups, end this arms race benefiting these groups,” Lahham told Tele Lumier.
“This would be a real effort, rather than turn us into refugees and say to us that you will sympathize with us and help us.”
“We want to be in our land and living alongside our Muslim brothers, despite all problems.”
France said Monday it would offer asylum for Christians who were forced to flee the northern Iraqi city of Mosul after radical groups under the Islamic State, formerly known as ISIS, gave them an ultimatum: to pay a religious tax, convert or face death.
"We are providing aid to displaced people fleeing from the threats of Islamic State and who have sought refuge in Kurdistan. We are ready, if they wish, to facilitate their asylum on our soil," France's foreign and interior ministers said in a joint statement.
"We are in constant contact with local and national authorities to ensure everything is done to protect them."
Lahham, however, said Western states should work on ending the fighting in Palestine and Syria.
“All Europe has done for 50 years is divide Muslims and Christians. You should seek an inter-Arab unity, an inter-Muslim unity and lastly a unity between Christian and Muslims,” said the patriarch, who has also been vocal about the status of Christians in war-torn Syria.
In a message to Iraq’s Christians, Lahham said: “We are not the first to be oppressed or suffer such consequences. Thousands of martyrs were killed and their blood helped maintain Christian presence and their message on this earth.”