(Photo: An Iraqi Christian refugee lights candles at an Orthodox church in Amman on November 7, 2010 for victims of the attack on Our Lady of Salvation church of Baghdad on October 31/Ali Jarekji)
Thousands of Iraqi Christians have fled their homes to semi-autonomous Kurdish areas and neighbouring countries since a Catholic church in Baghdad was attacked six weeks ago, the U.N. refugee agency has said.
Some 1,000 Christian families, roughly 6,000 people, have arrived in the northern Kurdish areas from Baghdad, Mosul and Nineveh, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said. Several thousand have crossed into Syria, Jordan and Lebanon.
Many spoke of receiving threats or leaving out of fear. Fifty-two hostages and police were killed when Iraqi forces tried to free more than 100 Catholics taken hostage during Sunday mass on October 31.
“Since the awful Baghdad church attack and subsequent targeted attacks, the Christian communities in Baghdad and Mosul have started a slow but steady exodus,” UNHCR spokeswoman Melissa Fleming told a news briefing on Friday.
Iraq’s Christians once numbered 1.5 million out of a total Iraqi population of about 30 million and there are now estimated to be about 850,000, or about 3 percent of the population.