Christians in the Middle East

Mark Field (Cities of London and Westminster, Conservative)

In January 1945, my mother, who was too young even to attend school, joined millions of other ethnic Germans who were fleeing westwards from Breslau as the red army advanced. My forefathers had lived in that region for at least nine generations, as far as I am aware. That forced repatriation—a process that might now be called ethnic cleansing—of my mother’s family and millions of other civilian groups would in future be inextricably linked with their ethnicity, which was largely overlooked at the time in the euphoria that swept across Europe at the end of the second world war. Of course, my mother’s generation never returned.

We are now witnessing another wave of largely unnoticed civilian displacement in the middle east, with hundreds of thousands of Christians being forced to flee as they are banished from their often 2,000-year-old homelands in today’s remarkable surge in Arabian people power.

Others have talked about Iran and Egypt, so I hope that I will be forgiven for saying a few words on the Syrian situation. Global media attention has moved from Egypt and Libya to Syria, and is focusing on the crimes of the Assad Government and the mission to neutralise his chemical weapons, but innocent people on all sides are enduring awful hardship, death and torture. Civil war does not discriminate between young and old.

As my hon. Friend Fiona Bruce said in her superb contribution, there are more than 2 million Syrian followers of Christ whose lineage goes back literally 2,000 years to St Paul’s proselytising in the first century AD. For those people, these are incredibly desperate times. The unspeakable truth is that a sizeable Christian community in war-torn Syria is now at a greater threat of being ethnically cleansed from its ancestral home than it has been for generations. That threat is often posed by self-styled freedom fighters who have been fêted by the western press. Those fighters—increasingly rent-a-mob jihadists with no real stake in the affairs of Damascus—do not see those in the enclaves of Christians as genial neighbours whom they have lived beside for centuries. I am afraid that the sad truth is that religious minorities often find their most assured protection under dictatorships, and often it pays not to rock the status quo, but that should not be a convenient excuse for destroying ancient churches and holding populations to ransom.

I know others also want to speak, so I will end my comments, but we should all recognise that there are major issues. The plight of Christians across the world is all too often overlooked. We have rightly focused

today on the middle east. The problems are going on, hour by hour, before our very eyes, and I am interested to hear what the Government will do, in practical terms.