‘I can’t understand what is going on around me. It is a nightmare’
Christian militias such as this one in Iraq have formed in an effort to protect Christian neighborhoods. They have received no help from the U.S. Obama administration and have had to rely on private donations and training from private U.S. citizens.
A leading Iraqi prelate has called on the U.S. and its allies to double down on their efforts to defeat ISIS militarily, and, if that is not possible, to rescue Iraq’s 120,000 exiled Christians and grant them asylum in the West.
Marking the first anniversary of the Islamic State’s capture of Mosul, Syrian Catholic Archbishop Yohanna Mouche called on “people who have the responsibility” to come to the rescue of the ousted Christian communities, whose people long to go home, the archbishop said in a phone interview with John Pontifex of Aid to the Church in Need, an international Catholic charity.
Since the fall of Mosul into ISIS’s hands last summer, the city has been emptied of the thousands of Christians who once resided there.
The archbishop told Pontifex that military action is the “best solution” to restore the land and property that has been stolen from Christians in Mosul and other Iraqi cities.
“We ask everyone to put pressure on the people who have the responsibility to free the [towns and villages] as soon as possible so the people can come back and live in peace in their homes and continue their lives there,” he told the Catholic charity.
The archbishop’s comments reflect the frustration felt by many Middle Eastern Christian clergy, not only Catholic but also Orthodox and Protestant, about what they perceive as the West’s reluctance to commit to a full-scale intervention to confront and defeat Islamic extremism in the region. Until recently many Catholic clergy had opposed such a move, but as the situation has grown more desperate, so have their pleas for help.
Many Christians have fled to safe havens in Kurdish-controlled areas and some have taken up arms, fighting alongside Kurdish soldiers.
West should ‘open its doors’ to Christian refugees
Archbishop Mouche said if the West is unable or unwilling to expand its military options against ISIS, then it should open its doors to Christians and other minorities seeking asylum.
“I am calling on the international community: if they cannot protect us, then they must open their doors and help us start a new life elsewhere,” he said.
But “we would prefer to remain in Iraq and be protected here,” he added.
Speaking of his own hardship, the prelate said: “I am like someone who is dreaming or drunk. I can’t understand what is going on around me. It is a nightmare.”
Asked about widespread reports of destruction of religious artifacts and ancient churches in Mosul, he said his contacts with the city had been severed. But he confirmed that “all our heritage is in Mosul, and in Qaraqosh,” on the Nineveh Plain.
He noted the monastery of St. Behnam, which dates back to the fourth century AD. The monastery is believed to have been at least partially destroyed by ISIS, which has also desecrated numerous Christian cemeteries.
“We have no news about our churches and monasteries, because we have no one left in Mosul to report on it,” the archbishop said.
U.N. assigns mostly Muslims for resettlement in West
The United States, which accepts the majority of the world’s refugees and asylum seekers, has taken in 119,210 refugees from Iraq since 2008, but 72,983 or 61 percent of those have been Muslims and only 42,000 or 35 percent have been Christian, according to U.S. State Department data.
As for the other major Middle Eastern source of refugees, Syria, the numbers are even more slanted toward Muslims. Among the nearly 850 Syrian refugees sent to the U.S. for permanent resettlement since the outbreak of the Syrian civil war, 92 percent have been Muslim and less than 6 percent Christian.
Iraq is home to some of the world’s earliest Christians. St. Thomas the apostle evangelized the Assyrians and Chaldeans living in the Nineveh plain of ancient Mesopotamia, part of modern-day northern Iraq, shortly after the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. About 4.7 million Christians lived in Iraq as of 1947, despite the numerous jihads launched against them by the 14th century warlord Tamerlane, who slaughtered 70,000 Christians at Tikrit, by the Ottoman Turks and later by al-Qaida.
Many Christians have fled while others converted to Islam. When the U.S. invaded Iraq in 2003 to overthrow Saddam Hussein, about 1.5 million Christians still lived in the country. That number has now dwindled to about 125,000, with most of those remaining living in Baghdad, Basra, and in the Kurdish cities of Kirkuk and Erbil.
Yet, instead of pushing for these Christians to be allowed into the U.S. and other Western countries, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and much of the refugee resettlement industry has lobbied instead for the relocation of Syrian refugees, 90 percent of whom are Muslims.
The U.S. Congress, led by Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul, R-Texas, has expressed grave concerns about the security risks of accepting large numbers of Syrian refugees, the ranks of which ISIS has vowed to infiltrate.
As WND reported June 3, between five and 10 of the 1,000 Syrian refugees slated by the U.N. for resettlement in Norway were recently found to have connections to either ISIS or the al-Nusra Front, according to Norway’s Police Security Service.
Also previously reported by WND in February, the FBI’s deputy director of counter-terrorism, Michael Steinbach, testified before the House Homeland Security committee that his agency was unable to screen the Syrian refugees because the U.S. has no access to reliable law enforcement records in the “failed state” of Syria. McCaul said he feared Syria’s Muslim refugees would become a “jihadi pipeline” into the United States.
Christians abandoned by Western governments
Christians pose no security risks, yet they have been largely abandoned in the face of vicious persecution, said Joel Richardson, a Christian author and filmmaker who recently visited Iraq on a missions trip.
“There’s no question we need to open our doors to the Christians of Iraq,” he told WND. “There’s been a lot of anecdotal evidence that within Congress and the various departments and channels that oversee U.S. immigration that for some mysterious reason we’re putting up these roadblocks that prevent these Christians from coming to the U.S. when we’re morally obligated to let them in, particularly in light of the fact that there is zero security risk and most of their plight can be attributed to the foreign policy blunders of the U.S. State Department under Barack Obama that was led by Hillary Clinton.”
“We have to get this issue down and established because the refugee crisis is only going to continue to explode as Libya falls into chaos as a result of (Obama’s) blunders there,” Richardson said. “It’s important to recognize what is the responsibility of the U.S. government but right now the Church needs to recognize that as chaos continues to envelope the earth, the mission field of Christ is opening up and expanding, and we are to be the first responders who will be there for the refugees who are in crisis.”
While the Christian refugees of Iraq pose no security risk, the loudest voices in the refugee resettlement industry, such as former U.K. Foreign Minister David Miliband, who now heads the International Rescue Committee, have lobbied in recent months almost exclusively on behalf of the Syrian refugees. Miliband and others have said the U.S. needs to take in at least 65,000 Syrian refugees by the end of 2016.
This same demand — for the U.S. to accept 65,000 Syrian refugees — has been echoed by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and by the Refugee Council USA. RCUSA is the main lobbying arm of the nine agencies that do the resettlement work under contract for the U.S. government.
That demand was taken up last month by 14 Democratic U.S. Senators, led by Richard Durbin, D-Ill., Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken, D-Minn. and Diane Feinstein, D-Calif., who signed a letter calling on President Obama to “dramatically increase” the number of Syrian refugees allowed into the U.S. That was enough to earn the 14 senators the title of “the Jihad Caucus” by Refugee Resettlement Watch author Ann Corcoran, who has been following the refugee movement since 2007.