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Christians in Iraq urged to flee

A UK-based Iraqi church leader has called on under-attack Christians in the war-ravaged country to flee and urged British authorities to grant asylum.

Archbishop Athanasios Dawood issued the plea during a service at the Syrian Orthodox Church in London.

It came a week after 52 Iraqis were killed when security forces stormed a Catholic church in Baghdad in an attempt to free Christians being held by gunmen.

A Home Office spokewoman said that it recognised some Iraqis needed international refuge and would consider asylum on a case-by-case basis.

Last week's siege at Our Lady of Salvation in Baghdad's Karrada district was the latest attack against Iraq's minority religious community. It has left many of the country's Christians - believed to total around 280,000 people - fearing further persecution and attack.

Speaking to the BBC, Archbishop Dawood warned of more deadly assaults against believers and criticised the US for not giving them adequate protection. He said: "Since 2003, there has been no protection for Christians. We've lost many people and they've bombed our homes, our churches, monasteries."

The senior Iraqi church leader told the BBC that Christians had no option but leave Iraq for their own safety. He said: "If we stay they will kill us. Which is better for us, to stay and be killed or to emigrate to another place and live in peace?"

Christians have lived in Iraq since the first century, but numbers have plummeted in recent years with many fleeing overseas.

Responding to Archbishop Dawood's comments, a spokeswoman for the Home Office said: "The UK recognises there may be individuals from Iraq that demonstrate a need for international protection.

"We will continue to carefully consider every case on its own merits and where someone is found to genuinely need our help we will provide refuge."

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