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Statement on the plight of the Yazidis in Iraq and religious persecution of Christians

A number of constituents have been in touch to express their deep concern about the plight of the Yazidis in Iraq and religious persecution against Christians.

I am appalled at what is happening.

The religious bigotry and violence we are seeing in the Middle East, and especially in Iraq, against Christians and other religious groups is deeply shocking, as is the conflict between Sunni and Shia. The Archbishop of Canterbury has warned that this is part of an “evil pattern around the world” in which people are killed and persecuted simply because of the faith they profess.

Threatening someone to convert at the point of a sword is like something out of the Middle Ages and this, and the other reports of utter brutality and massacres, shows just what a threat the Islamic State (IS) forces represent to all those who come into contact with them. The plight of the Yazidi community is of particularly urgent concern, and we must provide those trapped in the mountains with humanitarian aid while a way is found to get them to a place of safety.

The international community should also give support to the Kurdistan autonomous region in Iraq in their efforts to resist the IS advance, as well as helping the Iraqi government which must put aside sectarianism and focus all its efforts on keeping the country together and defeating IS. In these circumstances, I think President Obama was right to authorise limited air strikes to prevent the slaughter of these terrified and vulnerable people, and to support the humanitarian air drops of food and water. I also welcome the aid that the UK is giving, including supplies and helicopters to  assist in the relief effort. However, it is clear that much, much more needs to be done and urgently, following the UN Security Council's appeal for help.

It is really important that in the UK we speak out about all this because we have a proud tradition in recent times of religious tolerance and freedom of expression which many people greatly value. As my colleague Douglas Alexander, the Shadow Foreign Secretary, has said:

"We ..... have welcomed the Government’s contribution of humanitarian support and counter-terrorism expertise in Iraq. But we must also acknowledge that these latest outrages are part of a growing pattern of persecution – and that anti-Christian persecution, just like anti-Semitism or Islamophobia, must be called out for the evil it is."

I am writing to the Foreign Secretary to convey both the views that you and other constituents have expressed to me and my own deep concern, and to press for action to: call an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council – which we currently chair – to agree on further humanitarian aid; discuss with the UN’s refugee agency what shelter can be provided within Iraq – and how to provide greater assistance to refugees fleeing the region; and urge the UN Human Rights Council to make action on religious freedom a priority at the highest international level.

We all have a responsibility to highlight the danger and the awful reality of religious persecution of  Christians and other faiths around the world. None of us can remain silent in the face of such oppression of that most basic right - the right to believe and to worship.

Hilary Benn MP

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