France defends reception of wounded Iraqis

2010-11-11 14:01

Paris - France's immigration minister on Thursday defended his decision to bring to France those wounded in an attack at a Baghdad church, after Iraq warned against encouraging Christians to abandon their homeland.

"The French government's concern is not to make all the Christians of the Middle East and of Iraq come here," the minister, Eric Besson, said during a visit to a refugee centre east of Paris where the wounded were being housed.

"France's aim is to strengthen the protection of Christians in the Middle East and in Iraq to preserve communities which have been home to multiple faiths for centuries."

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki on Tuesday warned other countries, without naming France, not to encourage Christians to emigrate, after Besson sent a plane to bring 35 victims of the October 31 church attack to France for specialist treatment.

"The countries that have welcomed the victims ... of this attack have done a noble thing, but that should not encourage emigration," al-Maliki said on a visit to the Syriac Catholic cathedral where the massacre occurred.

Besson had said his move fitted France's "tradition of asylum", and that asylum would be "handed out generously" to those who seek it.

Besson and the French government drew international criticism over the summer for their mass deportations of Roma minorities.