France offers Iraq Christians asylum after Mosul threat

Iraqi Christian refugees receive aid in Hamdaniya, east of Mosul, 20 July 14 Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Aid is distributed to Iraqi Christians who fled to Hamdaniya, east of Mosul

The French government says it is ready to offer asylum to Iraqi Christians forced to flee by Islamist militants in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul.

Many fled Mosul after the Islamic State (IS) group which seized much of northern Iraq told them to convert to Islam, pay a tax or face death.

Iraq is home to one of the world's most ancient Christian communities.

Two top ministers said, "We are ready, if they so desire, to help facilitate asylum on our territory."

It was a joint message from Laurent Fabius and Bernard Cazeneuve, respectively foreign minister and interior minister in the Socialist government.

A senior Christian cleric in Iraq, Patriarch Louis Sako, estimated that before the advance of IS, Mosul had a Christian community of 35,000 - compared with 60,000 prior to 2003.

According to the UN, just 20 families from the ancient Christian minority now remain in the city, which Isis has taken as the capital of its Islamic state.

Islamic State was previously known as Isis (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant).

On Saturday, France's far right opposition party the National Front organised a rally in Paris in support of Iraqi Christians.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Graffiti on a Mosul church says "real estate property of the Islamic State" - and the "N" letter refers to "Nassarah", the Koranic word for Christians