Germany calls for EU help for Iraqi refugees

18th April 2008, Comments 0 comments

In an about face from Germany's position one year ago, when it rejected a similar call from Sweden, Schaeuble called on the EU's member states to share the burden of looking after Iraqi refugees.

Luxembourg -- The European Union should open its doors to Iraqi refugees, especially Christians, Germany's Interior Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said at a meeting with EU counterparts in Luxembourg on Friday.

In an about face from Germany's position one year ago, when it rejected a similar call from Sweden, Schaeuble called on the EU's member states to share the burden of looking after Iraqi refugees -- a burden which is at present unevenly spread across the bloc.

And while he refused to propose the number of refugees that Germany would accept, saying that any mention of a concrete figure would hijack the debate, he insisted that the EU should give priority to religious minorities, above all Christians.

"There is an almost 99-percent match between 'religious minorities' and 'Christians'," he told journalists after the meeting.

Schaeuble's comments came just hours after senior German officials called on the EU's member states to take in proportionate numbers of the refugees.

Joerg Schoenbohm, interior minister of Brandenburg state, said after consultations among the 16 German states near Berlin that the invitation must be a joint EU project, not a German one. The refugees must be distributed to all the EU nations, he said.

"The EU nations must commit themselves to jointly accept the refugees, so that it isn't Germany all by itself that takes in the mass of the refugees, as happened with Yugoslavia," said Schoenbohm.

He was referring to the tens of thousands of Bosnians who took refuge in Germany from the Bosnian war in the mid-1990s.

Another center-right minister, Volker Bouffier of Hesse, said, "Back then, Germany took in more people than all the other European nations combined."

On Sunday, Schaeuble spoke out in favor of taking in a large contingent of the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi Christians who have fled to refugee camps in Syria and Jordan.

But critics said that the plan to specifically help the minority, which has lived in Iraq since before Islam and mainly speaks the Aramaic language, would implicitly discriminate against Muslims.

The current head of the European Union's council of interior ministers gave a cold response earlier Friday to the German proposal.

"In general, I believe we must accept refugees and give asylum to everybody, without preconditions of religion or if anybody is from another race," Slovenian Interior Minister Dragutin Mate said.

Luxembourg Integration Minister Nicolas Schmit also reacted without enthusiasm to the proposal, saying that it would not be possible to be "selective."

However, EU states should show "solidarity" on the broader issue of Iraqi refugees, he said. Non-governmental organizations including Amnesty International have accused most EU member states of not doing enough to help Iraqi refugees.

Ahead of the meeting, Amnesty's general secretary, Irene Khan, told DPA that Germany should take in other Iraqi refugees as well, not just Christian ones.

The Christians from Iraq complain that intimidation, murder and abductions of Christians have continued, even as violence between Arabic-speaking Sunni and Shiite Muslim factions has declined.

The Catholic and Lutheran churches have pressed for Germany, which opposed the US invasion of Iraq, to take in 20,000 to 30,000.

German Foreign Ministry data suggests an original Iraqi Christian population of 800,000 had halved by 2005 to 400,000.

Iraq's two main native Christian denominations are the independent Church of the East under Patriarch Dinkha IV, and the Chaldean Catholic Church under patriarch Emmanuel III Delly, which is linked to Catholicism.

DPA with Expatica

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