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€4m aid package for Iraqi Christians

Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) has launched an emergency relief programme that aims to distribute the aid before winter.

The €4 million (£3.2 million) scheme is one of the largest in the charity's 67-year history, and also includes pastoral support for priests and nuns displaced by the crisis that has swept the country.

Islamic State militants have forced thousands of Christians to flee their homes after threatening them with death as it takes over large parts of Iraq and Syria.

Many are living in refugee camps and have been for the past four months.

Aid to the Church in Need says there is huge pressure to move thousands of families out of tents before winter comes and the weather is expected to deteriorate sharply in the next few weeks.

The emergency package put together by the charity includes building eight schools, which will educate 15,000 children, as well as food, portable accommodation and Christmas gifts for children.

The charity's head of Middle East projects, Fr Andrzej Halemba, said: "This ancient community, which dates back to biblical times, is on the verge of disappearing forever.

"They have suffered so much and this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to help them and give them what they need to get through the winter."

Chaldean Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil said: "I would like to thank Aid to the Church in Need for acting so quickly to help the people especially as we get close to winter."

Chaldean Archbishop Amil Nona of Mosul, who was among the 500,000 who fled the city in June when it was seized by Islamic State, is chair of the Emergency Committee of Bishops formed to coordinate relief efforts.

He said: "I am personally so grateful to ACN - you are giving us new hope."

Archbishop Nona called on ACN and people from around the world to pray for Iraq.

He told ACN: "Please pray for the safety of our people, that none are killed by terrorists; we should also pray for those who have persecuted us and we should also pray for an end to evil which is now so great in the world."

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