The French government has said it is ready to offer asylum to Iraqi Christians forced to flee their homes by jihadist death threats.
Many Christians have already been forced out of the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, where the Christian community once numbered 60,000, the largest in a country where Christians have lived for almost 2,000 years.
Since the US-led invasion of Iraq, the number of Christians within Iraq has dwindled to a few thousand, with the UN estimating just 20 Christian families remain in Mosul.
Now the Islamist militant group the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (formerly called ISIS) has said Christians must leave the city, convert to Islam, pay a tax or face death by the sword.
Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius and Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve have released a statement saying: “The situation of the Eastern Christians is unfortunately dramatic. The ultimatum issued to these communities in Mosul by ISIS is the latest tragic example of the terrible threat facing these people.
“France is outraged by these brutalities, which it condemns in the strongest possible terms. We are assisting displaced persons who are fleeing the Islamic State’s threats and seeking refuge in Kurdistan. Should they so wish, we are prepared to offer them asylum on our soil.”
According to a report on Euronews, at St. Ephrem’s Cathedral, the seat of the Syriac Orthodox archdiocese in Mosul, a jihadist flag flies in the place of the cross.
A hashtag movement has emerged to highlight the Christians’ plight. #WeAreN, is trending on Twitter. The ‘N’ denotes ‘Nazarene’, the name given to Jesus of Nazareth and depicts Christians in Muslim tradition.
The Arabic letter ‘nun’, or “n” was painted on doorways by Islamist militants to mark out the Christian inhabitants and has now a symbol of solidarity online.
On Saturday, France’s anti-immigration Front National party, led by Marine Le Pen, organised a rally in Paris in support of Iraqi Christians.