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Monthly archives: January, 2017

Youth “ready and able to do heavy lifting” to implement Sustainable Development Goals (Podcast)

Opening Session of the 6th UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) Youth Forum, which will focus on “the Role of Youth in Poverty Eradication and Promoting Prosperity in a Changing World” UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

Young people are “ready and able to do the heavy lifting” to implement the Sustainable Development Goals, the UN Youth Envoy has urged.

Ahmad Alhendawi shared his message shortly before the opening of the annual Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) Youth Forum on Monday.

Youth delegates and ministers from over 70 countries are meeting in New York to share ideas on eradicating poverty and “promoting prosperity” in a changing world.

Jocelyne Sambira has the details.

Duration: 3’12″



Christians ‘excluded’ from Iraq’s reconstruction plans

Christian refugees in a camp for internally displaced people in a church yard in Erbil, Iraq. (Sep 2014) World Watch Monitor

Christians are being excluded from the reconstruction plans for northern Iraq, further eroding the likelihood of their return once Islamic State has been militarily defeated there, an alliance of UK-based charities has warned.
Iraqi Christians firmly believe that Iraq is their spiritual homeland; their presence dates back at least to the 3rd Century. Before 2003, there were approximately 1.5 million Christians in Iraq, but estimates now range from 200,000 to 500,000. Approximately 70% of Iraq’s Christians are from the Chaldean Catholic tradition, while the remainder are Syriac Orthodox, Syriac Catholic, Armenian and Protestant.

After the Allied invasion of Iraq, many Christians fled the Baghdad area for the north, where some towns (such as Qaraqosh) had been almost 95% Christian before 2003. It’s estimated that at the time Mosul was invaded by Islamic State in June 2014, only about 3,000 Christians were left from the 35,000 there in 2003.

Now the UK coalition of mainly Christian charities working in Iraq and Syria says it’s “clear” that leaders of religious minority communities are being excluded from the National Settlement plan being put together by Iraq and other regional powers and presented to the UN.

The 88-page report, Ensuring Equality, which brought together contributions from 16 NGOs, adds that it is vital that Christians and other minority populations have support for their political and security concerns if they are to feel reassured enough to return to Mosul or the surrounding Nineveh Plains region, rebuild their communities and undertake any reconciliation process.

“This must include full citizenship status and the rebuilding of churches and community centres,” says the report.

Participating charities have repeated the oft-reported claim that Christians are not being supported by the international donor institutions, such as the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), and are having to rely on churches that are trying to run their own aid programmes with limited funds.

The NGOs who contributed include Aid to the Church in Need, the Assyrian Church of the East Relief Fund, the Syrian Network for Human Rights, Syrian Christians for Peace, the Evangelical Christian Alliance Church in Lebanon and the Alliance Church of Jordan.

“All the NGOs involved in this report state that the vast majority of Christians and other ‘minorities’ avoid UNHCR camps and facilities because of continuing discrimination and persecution,” the report says, adding: “It is utterly unacceptable that a place of sanctuary should be a place of fear that repels those it is designed to save and protect.”

However, it says that those who remain outside UNHCR camps “have fared … unequally in the allocation of international aid, funding, political support, media attention, and asylum placements”.

Two priests and two soldiers stand in front of a cross they have just resurrected on the top of Tahira Church in Qaraqosh in October 2016, after the town was liberated from IS. World Watch Monitor

The report urges the UNHCR to scrap its “need not creed” approach and acknowledge minorities’ particular experiences. It calls on the UNHCR to open more mobile registration units to enable asylum-seekers outside UN camps – who tend to be non-Muslims – to register. It also urges the UNHCR to employ more non-Muslim registration and security staff, and translators, to reduce discrimination against non-Muslims.
It recommends that Western governments giving aid should promote tolerance of minorities by objecting to materials or media outlets that promote extremism, and says the UNHCR should give converts from Islam to Christianity urgent protection, because they “face a high risk of assassination – even at the hands of fellow migrants in Europe”.

The report also recommends that the Balkan states that have expressed a desire to take Christian refugees as part of their “EU allocation” should be helped to do so. “At present this is being undermined by pressure and threats from Germany and the dead hand of political correctness,” it claims.

A similar call for more international aid was issued this week by a 14-member delegation of church leaders, who visited Baghdad and Erbil. The group, brought together by the World Council of Churches, met officials from the Baghdad and Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and the UN. After a briefing from the UN Humanitarian Co-ordinator in Iraq, Rev. Frank Chikane, moderator of the WCC’s Commission of the Churches on International Affairs, said: “The international donor support is woefully inadequate to meet the continuing need, leaving the host communities and the KRG to carry the burden on their own.”

In the Kremlin, the Russian Foreign Minister on Wednesday (25 Jan.) accused the European Union of “avoid[ing] the discussion on the problems of Christians in the Middle East [by] putting itself under the infamous mask of political correctness”.

Meanwhile the Al-Monitor news website reported last month that the viability of the project for Iraqi national reconciliation, outlined in December in the “national settlement” document, is threatened by its exclusion of the country’s minority populations, such as its Assyrian Christians.

One of Iraq’s few Christian MPs, Yonandam Kanna, secretary-general of the Assyrian Democratic Movement, told the website that the settlement did not include any clause determining the fate of disputed minority areas, control of which is sought by Arab Iraq and the semi-autonomous Kurdish region – such as the Nineveh Plains for the Christians and Shabaks.

He added: “Minorities do not have a say in this and they are not even allowed to determine their own fate. The settlement does not take into account the views of Christians or Yazidis, or any other less influential minority groups.”

Mr. Kanna has previously criticised the national reconciliation projects put forward by the larger political groups for failing to provide guarantees that people who have committed atrocities against minorities, such as Yazidis and Christians, would be brought to justice.

Another Christian Iraqi MP told a conference in Washington DC last summer that the Iraqi Parliament “does not take minorities into account”.

Global charity Open Doors, with others, has produced a detailed report on the vital contribution that Christians make in Iraq (and Syria). The report’s co-ordinator Rami* (not his real name) said: “We need recognition for the vital role of the Church in rebuilding and reconciliation… Maintaining the presence of Christians is not only about them; it is for the good of society as a whole. In the reports and research we’ve conducted, we have mapped, in a way, all the contributions Christians have given to Iraq.”

The report begins: “When Christianity spread across what we now call the Middle East and we see that since then until now Christians have contributed to societies in literacy, in health, in translating and contributing to the Arabic language. Some of the best early centres of learning in the world were founded by Christians. Christians were among the first to introduce charitable works and NGOs. We see them involved in politics, and in the development of the Iraqi state. Christians are among the most well-known business people. And in the future Christians, alongside other numerical minorities, are vitally important for the stability of [Iraq]. Policy-makers and researchers agree that we need to maintain diversity in order to counter extremism and radicalisation. We need diversity to ensure sustainable peace and lasting stability in the Middle East.”

The way that Open Doors is tackling these issues, Rami told World Watch Monitor in November, involves working with indigenous church leaders, engaging with governments and decision-makers across the globe, and trying to collect One Million Voices in a petition in support of a campaign to bring “Hope to the Middle East”.

Source: World Watch Monitor



Germany rejecting ‘almost all’ applications for asylum of Christian refugees

These Christian refugees thought they finally found a safe refuge when they arrived in Germany after fleeing persecution in their homelands.

But now their asylum hopes are being “hijacked” in “kangaroo” courts as they face the prospects of deportation and returning again to the horrors they had fled from.

Dr. Gottfried Martens, a pastor at Trinity Lutheran Church in Berlin, has revealed that the German government is rejecting almost all applications for asylum from most of his church’s Iranian and Afghan refugee members who have waited years in Germany for the government to hear their cases, CBN News reported.

He said these asylum seekers are now receiving deportation notices.

Trinity Lutheran Church is known for its work with Iranian and Afghan refugees. It considers itself as the fastest growing Lutheran church congregation in Germany.

Martens explained that migrants increase their chances of winning asylum in Germany if they are able to prove that they would face persecution if sent home to a Muslim country, according to the Daily Mail.

They can do this by showing proof that they are Christian or have converted to Christianity.

But the problem is that Muslim translators are “hijacking” their asylum applications by deliberately misquoting them during their “kangaroo court” asylum hearings, making it look like their conversion was fabricated. Thus their asylum claim is deemed falsified and subsequently rejected, leading to their deportation, Martens said.

“The almost exclusively Muslim translators deliberately stick the knife in our congregational members by falsely translating what they say,” Martens wrote in a Christmas letter to his supporters on Dec. 22, the Daily Mail reported.

Martens earlier expressed concern that some Muslims come to his church and express interest in Christianity just to improve their chances of getting their asylum request approved.

The German pastor also denounced the continuing harassment of Christian migrants and Christian converts living in German refugee shelters. “Many of them suffered violent attacks from Muslim residents,” he said.

Last year, CBN News reported on the harassment of Christian refugees in Germany. Open Doors, a German-based organisation, confirmed the reports after documenting the attacks made by Muslim migrants against Christian refugees.

Source: ChristianityToday.com



Fifth murder of an Egyptian Copt in two weeks

Remembering the injustice of the past and addressing the injustice of the present.

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The murder of another Coptic Christian in Egypt, this time in the centre of the capital, makes this the fifth death over a 13-day period.

ISHAK IBRAHIM FAYEZ YOUNAN. PHOTO COURTESY OF ISHAK’S FAMILY

 

Ishak Ibrahim Fayez Younan, 37, was found dead by his brother on 16 January, at Ishak’s flat in the old part of Cairo. He leaves a wife and two children, 10 and 12.

His death, reported to be by his throat being cut, bears similarities with the deaths of other Coptic Christians over a two-week period. Each had their throat cut, while money and other valuables were left behind – even though police had said robbery was the motive behind at least one of the murders.

Younan was murdered in the flat he rented while he worked in a factory supplying soft drinks to supermarkets. His wife and two children were at the family home in El-Sheikh Zaied, a village in Upper Egypt.

Family Christmas

His brother, Magdy Younan, told World Watch Monitor that Ishak had just returned to Cairo to work after a week’s holiday to celebrate the traditional Coptic Christmas – 7 January – and a family wedding. “It was his first visit to the family in two months,” Magdy added.

Ishak travelled back to Cairo on 12 January, visiting Magdy on the way to his own flat. He took him a food package – a traditional Upper Egyptian gift – from their parents because Magdy could not visit them during the Christmas break.

Ishak’s wife phoned him on 13 January to check everything was OK since his return to Cairo. That was the last time she spoke to him. She tried calling his mobile telephone over the following three days but never got an answer.

“She was very worried about him because it was the first time they hadn’t spoken for that long,” said Magdy.

She asked Magdy to visit the flat to see what was wrong. “I headed to Ishak’s flat with our brother-in-law,” he said. “When we got there, the door was locked. We knocked loudly but no one answered.

“We then went to the factory but Ishak’s colleagues told us he hadn’t been to work since before his Christmas holiday. We were very worried.”

Ishak had worked at the factory for 13 years. According to Magdy, he was highly thought of by his work colleagues, who had also tried to phone him over the previous three days. They assumed when he didn’t answer that he was still at the family home in El-Sheikh Zaied.

“We went back to his flat and managed to open the door,” said Magdy. “We found Ishak’s body lying in a pool of blood. He had a large wound at his throat.

“There was no sign of a struggle – everything was in its place. His wallet was still in his pocket with 400 Egyptian Pounds [US $21] in it”.

Motive

“The murderer didn’t steal his money or anything from the flat, which indicates that the motive was not theft,” Magdy added.

Magdy called the police, who came immediately to look at the crime scene and take fingerprints.

During the evening of 16 January, Ishak’s body was taken to a morgue in Cairo for a post-mortem. His family received his body the next day, taking it to their village in El-Sheikh Zaied for his funeral at Saint George Coptic Orthodox Church, and burial at the family cemetery later the same day.

“My brother had no enemies; he was a very simple man, and peaceful,” said Magdy, when asked if he thought anyone would want to harm Ishak.

“He left his wife and children to work in Cairo to support them. His family will now face difficulties as he was the primary bread-winner.”

More Christians live in Upper Egypt than in the rest of the country. It is less developed and with fewer opportunities for work. Egypt is at number 21 on the Open Doors 2017 World Watch List of the 50 countries around the world where it is most difficult to live as a Christian.

Source: Voice of the Persecuted



Bana Alabed: Syrian tweeting girl pens letter to Trump

Bana, who is now in Turkey,

Bana Alabed, the seven-year-old Aleppo girl known worldwide for her tweets from Aleppo, has written an open letter to Donald Trump.

“You must do something for the children of Syria because they are like your children and deserve peace like you,” she wrote.

Bana escaped Aleppo with her family in December during the mass evacuations, and is now living in Turkey.

Her twitter account became famous for its messages from besieged east Aleppo.

Her mother, Fatemah – who helps run the account – sent the text of the letter to the BBC.

She said Bana wrote it days before President Trump’s inauguration, because “she has seen Trump many times on the TV”.

Bana Alabed’s letter to President Trump

Dear Donald Trump,

My name is Bana Alabed and I am a seven years old Syrian girl from Aleppo.

I lived in Syria my whole life before I left from besieged East Aleppo on December last year. I am part of the Syrian children who suffered from the Syrian war.

But right now, I am having a peace in my new home of Turkey. In Aleppo, I was in school but soon it was destroyed because of the bombing. Some of my friends died.

I am very sad about them and wish they were with me because we would play together by right now. I couldn’t play in Aleppo, it was the city of death.

Right now in Turkey, I can go out and enjoy. I can go to school although I didn’t yet. That is why peace is important for everyone including you.

However, millions of Syrian children are not like me right now and suffering in different parts of Syria. They are suffering because of adult people.

A screenshot from the Twitter account @AlabedBana, showing her two younger brothers smiling and seated on a a row of plant pots made in the shapes of a train. The caption reads Image copyrightTWITTER / ALABEDBANA Image caption Since arriving in Turkey, Bana’s Twitter account has turned to calls for fighting to end

I know you will be the president of America, so can you please save the children and people of Syria? You must do something for the children of Syria because they are like your children and deserve peace like you.

If you promise me you will do something for the children of Syria, I am already your new friend.

I am looking forward to what you will do for the children of Syria.

Turkey, where Bana and her family now live, supports the Syrian opposition. But President Trump’s position is not yet clear.

The US president has repeatedly stressed his desire for a strong relationship with Russia, and endorsed Vladimir Putin – who supports Syria’s President Assad.

During the campaign, he spoke of ceasing aid to the rebels – but more recently, he has also spoken of the need for Syrian “safe zones”, which would help rebel forces.

Bana’s appeal to the new US president comes as Iran, Russia, and Turkey have jointly pledged to enforce a three-week ceasefire in Syria amid peace talks.

But without agreement from Assad’s government or rebel forces, it is not clear how long any agreement will hold.

Source: BBC News