France announced Tuesday that it would earmark nearly $28 million in aid for persecuted minorities in the Middle East, as Europe grapples with a mounting refugee crisis on its doorstep.
Representatives from about 60 nations meeting in Paris have come up with an action plan to support religious and ethnic minorities in Iraq and Syria who are being persecuted by the Islamic State and other extremist groups.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius announced 25 million euros — or about $28 million — in aid for lodging and other assistance. He said pledges from other countries would follow.
Earlier, French President Francois Hollande called for an action plan to retain religious and ethnic diversity in the Middle East.
If the international community doesn’t offer more support to these families, and regional countries sheltering them, Hollande warned, many more will flee to Europe. Earlier in the day, France dispatched its first reconnaissance flights over Syria, an initial step toward for a possible strike against radical groups there.
The Paris conference took place as thousands of asylum seekers have been on the move in recent days, many heading for Germany. Many come from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq. Overall, a record 350,000 migrants have crossed the Mediterranean this year.
On Wednesday, the European Union’s executive arm is expected to announce a plan for the EU’s 28 members to more fairly share the migrant burden. Hollande has already said France will take in about 24,000 refugees in the next two years. But Europe is deeply divided over the plan.
Taking in Middle East migrants is also proving controversial in France. Polls show the majority of French don’t want to relax refugee rules. Some French mayors say they will accept only Christian refugees, not Muslim ones — a move the leftist government has sharply rebuked.
On French television, Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said Muslims along with Christians were being persecuted, as were other minorities.
Minority populations have shrunk sharply in the Middle East in recent years. Only about 4,000 Christians remain in Iraq, for example, compared with 1.4 million in 1987.