Iraqi Christians are fleeing to neighbouring Syria in search of refuge from violence and persecution meted out by Islamic militants, according to reports by the Associated Press.

“Iraqis from all sections of the Iraqi society have been approaching our office,” said Ajmal Khybari, senior officer at the UNHCR (United Nations High Comissioner for Refugees) office in Damascus. “But in the past two or three months we have seen an increase of Iraqi Christians.”

Iraq’s Christian minority (3% of the country’s population) are reeling after 7 were killed and dozens wounded in explosions set off by Islamic militants in 5 churches in Baghdad and Mosul on August 1.

The assault was the first major one on the Christian community since the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime in April 2003. Iraqi Christians had, however, reported harrassment in the form of violence and death threats by Islamic militants, and Christian women being forced to wear veils.

Christians in Iraq have generally been free to practice their religion and integrate peacefully into Iraqi society, even under Saddam Hussein’s rule.