Iraqi Christians reach France after fleeing Islamists

Newly arrived Iraqi Christians with French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius Image copyright AFP
Image caption Foreign Minister Fabius (centre) greeted the refugees as they got off the plane

France has welcomed about 40 Iraqi Christian refugees who were flown to Paris from Irbil in Iraqi Kurdistan.

Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius greeted them at the airport and said several hundred more Iraqi Christians would be flown to France in the coming weeks.

They fled the swift advance of Islamic State militants, who now control big swathes of Iraq and Syria.

French officials say Iraqi Christians who already have links with France will be considered more favourably.

Mr Fabius said those who arrived on Thursday had faced "threats to their lives".

"Some of the people here have relatives (in France), even if they haven't seen them for 10 or 15 years," he said at the airport.

Later he said the number of Iraqi Christians who could get asylum in France might reach "several thousand".

The plane that picked up the group in Irbil had gone there with a cargo of humanitarian aid.

The IS campaign has displaced an estimated 1.2 million people in Iraq, many of them minority Christians and Yazidis.

Refugees say the hardline Islamists have demanded that Christians and Yazidis convert to Islam, threatening them with death if they refuse.

Last month the French government said it would offer asylum to Iraqi Christians forced to flee by the IS militants.

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