A Scottish Euro MP has just returned from four days in Iraq, where he visited Syrian refugee camps, and discussed the country’s worsening human rights situation and persecution of minorities with senior political leaders.
Struan Stevenson, who chairs the European Parliament's Delegation for Relations with Iraq, travelled to Erbil in Kurdistan, Northern Iraq, where he met with the Kurdistan Regional Government's President Masoud Barzani and Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani. He also met with leading Christian bishops, the Grand Mufti of Iraq and members of the Iraqi Parliament, including the Chairman of its Human Rights Committee, as well as leaders of the recent popular uprisings in six provinces against the Baghdad Government.
Speaking on his return to Brussels about the persecution of Iraq’s Christian community, Struan said:
"I was invited to address a major conference in Erbil organised by the Chaldean Syriac Assyrian Christians, which over 600 people attended. The conference debated the gradual erosion of Iraq's ancient Christian community which has now dwindled from 1.5 million to an estimated 300,000. One of the oldest Christian communities in the world, which can trace its origins back to the time of Christ, now faces extinction because of virtual ethnic cleansing and constant vicious bombings, assassinations and kidnappings. The autonomous region of Kurdistan is the only safe haven for Christians and many other ethnic minorities who have found themselves under constant attack in Iraq.”
Discussing the plight of refugees from the civil war in Syria and the need for aid, Struan continued:
"Kurdistan has a tradition of providing a safe haven for refugees and I was able to visit some massive camps where Syrians, fleeing from the civil war in their country, have been given food and shelter. But it is a sad indictment of the Government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in Baghdad, that none of the aid money he promised the Kurds has ever materialised. I visited Kawregocek refugee camp near Erbil where 13,000 Syrian men, women and children have been living since August. The Kurdistan Regional Government and UNHCR have done amazing work in setting up a series of emergency camps in a very short period, to provide food and shelter for these people. But with winter approaching, there is an urgent need for additional aid to provide tent linings, stoves, heaters, winter clothing and more food. The EU must stop sending such financial aid to Baghdad, where it simply disappears. Instead it must be given directly to the NGOs who are actively helping the Syrian refugees in Iraq.”
Describing further human rights abuses by Iraq’s government, Struan concluded:
"Indeed, this was not the only complaint against Maliki that I heard during my visit. Again and again I was told by representatives of many diverse religious faith and ethnic minorities and even from the larger Shia, Sunni and Kurdish communities, how Maliki's sectarian government has become deeply unpopular. Leaders of the popular uprisings in six Sunni provinces told me that the wave of terror, which has claimed the lives of 7,000 people so far this year in Iraq, is his responsibility, because he controls the military, the police, the intelligence services and all aspects of security in the country. Iraq is rapidly spiralling towards a renewed insurgency and Maliki's only response is to marginalise the Kurds, label the Sunnis as terrorists and turn a blind-eye to the systematic discrimination and violence against other ethnic minority groups.
"I raised the question of the horrific massacre of 52 Iranian refugees in Camp Ashraf on September 1st and the abduction of seven hostages, six of them women, who have not been seen since. Maliki denies all knowledge of these appalling crimes against defenceless refugees, but it is clear that such an orchestrated and savage assault could never have been planned and executed without his direct involvement. I asked leading politicians in Iraq to intervene without delay to ensure the immediate release of these hostages, who are being held in Baghdad as has been confirmed recently by Amnesty International. In my numerous meetings I realized that there is a strong revulsion amongst the Arab and Kurdish politicians towards this massacre which they repeatedly described as a crime against humanity and an insult to Arabic-Kurdish traditions of hospitality".
Notes to editor:
1. Struan Stevenson is a Conservative Euro MP for Scotland and is President of the European Parliament's Delegation for Relations with Iraq.
2. He was invited to give the keynote address at a major conference organised by the Chaldean, Syriac, Assyrian Christians in Erbil, Northern Iraq. He met with leaders of the Kurdish Regional Government and other key Iraqi politicians during his four day visit to the country.
3. Struan also visited the Kawregocek refugee camp near Erbil. Photos of the visit are available upon request.
4. A full copy of Struan’s speech is available upon request.
5. For more information, please contact:
Tel: 0131 554 1146
Mob: 07766 166 637
Wednesday 27 November 2013
Coverage of Struan's visit has appeared in the Kurdish media: