A French plane landed in Paris Monday night carrying dozens of Iraqis wounded in a church hostage crisis in Baghdad last month, along with family members. They are arriving under expanded asylum grants which the French government made available for vulnerable Iraqis.
The Iraqis are the first of two expected groups of victims and their families of an al-Qaida hostage crisis that took place in a Baghdad church on October 31. They include 36 wounded Iraqis, almost all of them Christian. Some 21 family members and companions are also with them. Those wounded will be transferred to Paris hospitals for treatment.
French Immigration Minister Eric Besson said another group of 93 people will arrive in Paris in the coming weeks. Overall, Besson said, France's asylum program was ready to take in an extra 150 Iraqis, including those wounded in the church attack and their family members.
On Sunday, churches across France read out an appeal sent by five Iraqi bishops to their French counterparts. The spokesman for French bishops, Monsignor Bernard Podvin, told French radio that the church hostage taking had shocked the international community.
Monsignor Podvin said that in their letter, the Iraqi bishops had called on French people to be with them in their time of distress. French bishops had replied in a letter offering solidarity and prayer - and an appeal to the international community to protect Christians and all other vulnerable people in the region.
According to France's immigration ministry, the country has taken in 1,300 Christian refugees from Iraq since 2007.