Isis's persecution of Iraqi Christians, which has already forced tens of thousands of men, women and children to flee for their lives, is fast becoming a genocide, religious leaders have warned.
Archbishop Athanasius Toma Dawod of the Syriac Orthodox church said that Isis's capture of Qaraqosh, Iraq's largest Christian city, had marked a turning point for Christians in the country.
"Now we consider it genocide – ethnic cleansing," he said. "They are killing our people in the name of Allah and telling people that anyone who kills a Christian will go straight to heaven: that is their message. They have burned churches; they have burned very old books. They have damaged our crosses and statues of the Virgin Mary. They are occupying our churches and converting them into mosques."
The archbishop, who leads the Syriac Orthodox church in the UK, urged the UK government to open the country's doors to those fleeing the violence. "We are dying, 100%," he said. "The British government needs to help people and to give them asylum. If they stay here, they will be killed."
His pleas were echoed by Patriarch Louis Sako, the Iraq-based leader of the Chaldean Catholic church, who said that about 100,000 Christians had abandoned their villages in the Nineveh plains earlier this week after Isis launched mortar attacks. He asked the EU and the UN to help them before it was too late.
"They fled their villages and houses [with] nothing but … the clothes on their backs," he said in a statement to the charity Aid to the Church in Need. "[It is] an exodus, a real via crucis; Christians are walking on foot in Iraq's searing summer heat towards the Kurdish cities of Irbil, Duhok and Soulaymiyia, the sick, the elderly, infants and pregnant women among them. They are facing a human catastrophe and risk a real genocide."
Cardinal Vincent Nichols, the leader of Roman Catholics in England and Wales, described Isis's treatment of Christian, Yazidi and other communities as "a persecution of immense proportions" and urged the UK government to act.
The archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, also called on the UK to follow other European governments by helping to protect Iraq's Christians and other minorities.