Only Christians, Please: Germany's CDU Interested in Accepting Refugees from Iraq

Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats on Wednesday said they would like to see Germany take on thousands of refugees from Iraq. The hitch? They only want the Christians.

If the CDU has its way, Iraqi Christians like this family may soon be on their way to Germany.
AFP

If the CDU has its way, Iraqi Christians like this family may soon be on their way to Germany.

For months, ethnic violence has been on the ebb in war-torn Iraq. But that has done little to ease the pressure of over 2 million refugees seeking shelter in neighboring Syria and Jordan. Indeed, for many of them -- particularly those once part of Iraq's Christian minority -- going back may never be an option.

On Wednesday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party said it would like to see Germany do its part to help out. At a press conference in Berlin, parliamentarian Erika Steinbach, the CDU's human rights spokeswoman, said her party wanted to see Germany accept thousands of Iraqi refugees. In particular, she said, the CDU wants to extend its welcoming hand to Iraqis who have suffered religious persecution in Iraq. In particular, that means the Christians.

"One would be doing a good thing were a long-term solution to be found," Steinbach said.

According to Steinbach, the CDU envisions bringing a large group (possibly as many as 10,000) of non-Muslim refugees to Germany with the understanding that they would not be treated as asylum seekers. Asylum seekers are not allowed to work in Germany, and Steinbach said that it is unrealistic to think that Christian refugees from Iraq would ever be able to return. For this reason, their ultimate integration in Germany should be supported.

Members of Yazidis and Mandaean religious minorities would also be among those allowed in, according to the party's proposal. The CDU argues that, in contrast to Muslim refugees from Iraq, religious persecution makes it unlikely that Christians, Yazidis and Mandaeans would ever by able to return.

Whether the United Nations refugee agency UNHCR would agree to the CDU plan, however, is unclear. As a rule, the UNHCR is unwilling to divide up refugees for resettlement based on their religious beliefs. Deputy CDU floor leader Arnold Vaatz, though, said on Wednesday that he would like to see the UNHCR take the issue of possible return into consideration. Such a criterion could open the door for Germany to accept a group of refugees that was overwhelmingly non-Muslim.

The CDU's coalition partners, the Social Democrats, have yet to commit to the plan. The final decision on accepting refugees from Iraq would be made by interior ministers from Germany's 16 federal states.

The CDU is hoping that other countries in Europe will show a willingness to accept more refugees from Iraq at an EU meeting of interior and justice ministers next week. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki will be in Stockholm on Thursday for a UN conference on the Iraqi refugee crisis. Sweden has long shouldered more than its share of the refugee burden in Europe and has long asked other EU countries to up the numbers they accepted.

"Sweden has done very much of the job and less has been done by others, and I think that basically that's wrong," Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt told the AP on Tuesday.

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