'Let My People Stay!' – Iraqi Prime Minister Discourages Emigration

By David North on November 10, 2010

Usually it is the receiving countries that play the dominant roles in immigration policy discussions.

But that is not the case right now in Iraq.

Iraq's Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has issued an unusual appeal, saying to France, in effect, "Let my people stay." He is asking the West not to accept Christian Iraqi refugees, despite the recent Muslim violence against them.

The Prime Minister's pitch came in the wake of a bloody attack by Muslim extremists on a Christian church in Baghdad. The initial attack and the police action that followed killed 53 people.

France responded by taking in dozens of the wounded parishioners. France, since the days of the Ottoman Empire (of which Iraq was a part for centuries) has regarded itself as the guardian of Christians in the Middle East. Between the wars both Syria and Lebanon were French protectorates.

Following the bombing of the Syriac Catholic Cathedral, al-Maliki issued a statement in which he both thanked the French for what they had done and said "but that should not encourage emigration." He asked the Pope "not to let the East be emptied of Christians nor the West of Muslims."

There were about 800,000 Christians living in Iraq before it was invaded by the U.S. in 2003, but that number has dropped to about 500,000; many left because of heightened communal tensions that following the invasion.

The supportive statement of al-Maliki regarding the Christians in his nation had a couple of overtones: one was that he presumably wants the world to regard Iraq as a stable nation, under his leadership, and nothing undercuts such an image so much as an outflow of refugees.

Secondly, well aware of the European tensions about resident Muslims, he does not want to see a steady flow of them out of Europe, and back to the Middle East and to North Africa, and he said as much in his message to the Roman pontiff.

Meanwhile, on this side of the Atlantic, we do not hear similar requests from the president of Mexico.