Tuesday, December 11, 2007

NEW VIDEO: Iraqi Christians in Peril


Washington, DC

Chairman William J. Murray today announced the release of a streaming video detailing the horrors facing Iraqi Christians.

This stunning video was produced in Beirut, Lebanon by the Chaldean Catholic Church, but is applicable to the plight of all Christians in Iraq. The personal testimonies of persecuted Christian families who have been forced to flee the homes they have had for centuries are presented. Regardless of whether an individual supported the American war effort in Iraq or not this is a must see 22 minute clip the exposes extreme Islam unleashed in that nation after the invasion.

View the video at: http://www.rfcnet.org/video/vid.html

Saturday, December 8, 2007

State Department Response


Washington, DC – Dec 7, 2007

Inside the Beltway the State Department is referred to as "Foggy Bottom," partly because of the building location, but mostly because of the logic by which it operates. On Monday, December 2nd members of our fact finding team who had traveled to the Middle East met with Assistant Secretary Sauerbrey and seven fairly high ranking members of her department concerning a draft of our report on the condition of Iraqi refugees in Jordan and Lebanon.

Secretary Sauerbrey is a George W. Bush political appointee to the State Department; the rest of those present were "career" officers. While the Secretary was present the tone of the meeting was cordial and concerned, and it appeared that progress was being made. Upon her departure from the room, the tone quickly changed to one of an aggressive defense of status quo policy. Ninety-nine percent of State Department employees, including most ambassadors, are "career" people who have their own agendas while working under various presidents. Often their agendas and desires to protect themselves overshadow the will of the political leaders of the nation. Unlike the Armed Forces, those at State rarely are obedient to the desires of the elected political leaders of this nation.

Often the official “called for” procedures of the State Department; the actual on-the-ground situation; and the perceptions of those involved are three somewhat different things. At the meeting with Secretary Suaerbrey on Monday we learned for the first time that there is a Jordanian-American staffer at the embassy in Amman tasked with the duty of “refugee liaison.” However, Ambassador Hale told us in Jordan very flatly that no one was actually meeting with refugees outside the Embassy walls. One of his staff, the USAID officer, told us “It isn’t our job to go to church.” Not a single church leader or member of the refugee community we met with had every met this individual and did not know of the person’s existence. Perhaps this individual was meeting with UNHCR, CARITAS, and other NGO’s. But, to the knowledge of church leaders in the refugee community there was no contact with this individual.

NOTE : Several weeks after our departure from Jordan our team received reports from church leaders saying the Embassy had begun to have contacts with the refugee community. The findings of our team had been delivered directly to King Abdullah of Jordan who then presented it directly to Ambassador Hale. It was not until the King inquired as to why there was no contact between the Embassy and refugees that contact visits began.

When we departed from the meeting on Monday we were very concerned about the “on paper” presence of the officer tasked with refugee liaison verses the personal witness of virtually every church leader in Jordan including Catholic, Orthodox and evangelical.

Our overall purpose is not to have our report “answered” but rather to begin to hear from the refugee community that their perception of the relationship with our nation is improving. Many of the Christians and secularists (most of the Muslim refugees actually appear to be secularists) who are now refugees saw our nation as their savior in 2002, and unfortunately our presence has caused them great loss of life and property. The suffering of the individuals we interviewed was appalling and heart wrenching at the same time. It is very difficult to talk to a mother who has had her children dumped dead at her doorstep. The experience of such a conversation is far different from a conversation with a Euro representative of UNHCR at a high dollar coffee shop who has never personally interviewed a refugee. One of our biggest concerns was the distance between the embassy and the refugee victims, many of whom had worked for the Coalition and suffered great loss as a result.

I publicly supported the President’s Iraq position in 2002; therefore, I have the right to say that we own this war and as a result we own the refugees caused by this war. All of those participating in the fact finding mission understand the procedures in place with the UNHCR. Perhaps, collectively, our fact finding team was just not bright enough to understand at what point the refugee problem ceased to be the responsibility of the United States of America. Our nation simply needs to do more than it is doing. Either the United States makes Iraq safe for the return of the refugees, or we need to help them live better lives somewhere else.

William J. Murray, Chairman

Religious Freedom Coalition

Sunday, November 4, 2007

INITIAL REPORT - Iragi Christian Refugee Crisis

October, 2007 Fact Finding Mission

MURDER - Last week in Lebanon I sat in horror as one mother told me about the murder of her young daughter. The family lived in the Dora neighborhood of Baghdad, which at one time consisted of 20,000 Christian families. Less than 2,000 remain. In May the family received a call telling them that one of their two teen aged daughters must be handed over to the local mosque for marriage to a Muslim. The family refused, and one week later their fifteen year old daughter didn’t come home from school. She had been kidnapped. They received a call from a Muslim who told them, “There is no amount you can pay to ransom her, we just want to break your heart.” Their daughter was held for a week and repeatedly raped, and then she murdered and her mutilated body was dumped in the street. The family fled Iraq with their remaining children, first to Syria and then to Lebanon.

Most of the Christians in Iraq belong to a small order called the Chaldean Catholics. There are also Assyrian Christians, Orthodox and some Evangelicals. It is estimated that about half of the Christian population has fled Iraq since our 2002 invasion which rid the nation of the sadistic dictator, Saddam Hussein, who was later hung. Our efforts to install a Jeffersonian democracy similar to our own have failed, and the government of Iraq is dysfunctional at the national level. The Iraqi constitution calls for freedom of religion, human rights and Islamic Sharia law. This is an impossible combination, because Sharia law is contrary to human rights and human dignity.

OUR EMBASSY SENDS IRAQI REFUGEES TO THE UN - When refugees from Iraq come to the US Embassy in Amman, Jordan they are sent away to a United Nations refugee office. This is not a local decision by Ambassador David Hale; he is simply following the orders of our State Department. As a nation we have washed our hands of the refugees and that includes many who were wounded while working for American contractors in various fields including security. In my view this is flat wrong. We own this war and these refugees are our responsibility. Sending them to the United Nations for vetting to determine "which nation" they should apply to for asylum is a cop out.

When Iraqi refugees approach the US Embassy in Amman they never see an American Counselor nor do they receive any information sheet telling them of their options. Jordanian guards employed by the US direct them to the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees (UNHCR). Even those who were wounded working for our nation are sent to the United Nations when in fact they have the right to apply directly. Worse, those who have direct relatives in the United States are also sent to the UN even though they have other options. This is a shameful situation that must be corrected by our State Department.

The Iraqi Christian refugees we talked to are intimidated by the hired Jordanian guards at the Embassy and many do not even approach it. At the UNHCR office in Jordan the staff is nearly 100% Muslim, and our fact finding team was told by refugees that they were often treated with disdain and virtually never called back.

Proper advice is not given out by the United Nations to those who seek help. President Bush has ordered that those refugees who have worked with Coalition forces in Iraq and whose families have faced persecution be processed quickly. According to Ambassador Hale those who have worked with Coalition forces are to be sent by the UNHCR to the International Office of Migration (IOM) and then interviewed by the Department of Homeland Security. Yet we met dozens of individuals who had worked with Coalition forces and who had been to the UNHCR and had never been told about the IOM, much less sent there.

In one group of fifty Christian refugees we interviewed, a staggering forty-eight had relatives in the United States and no one had told them their relative could sponsor them into the United States. Some even had parents who were naturalized US citizens and did not know that a simple form could speed up their applications. Twelve of this same group of fifty had worked with Coalition forces and had not been interviewed by the International Office of Immigration or the Department of Homeland Security.

ANOTHER MURDER - One man I interviewed in this group of fifty had served with his brother as an MP (Military Policeman) guarding our troops at one of our bases in Iraq. On their way back to their homes after work one day they were gunned down. His brother was killed and he suffered several wounds including a head wound. When he got out of the hospital he received calls telling him that his “blood would be ended” as was his brother’s. He took his family and fled to Jordan. He has never had an interview with anyone associated with our Embassy nor has the UNHCR referred him to the IOM as we were told by Ambassador Hale is the procedure.

Despite the huge size of the US Embassy in Jordan there is no outreach to the Iraqi refugees, which members of our team viewed as a gross neglect of duty. Many of the refugees could be re-employed by the Coalition forces in Iraq and convinced to return to more secure areas. The failure of the embassy to have representatives talk to the clergy dealing with the refugees shows either ignorance of basic intelligence gathering or a lack of caring for the Iraqi refugees.

At the same time the State Department has handed over the Iraqi refugees to the United Nations in Jordan, Lebanon and Syria, there is a fast track program to bring 50,000 Bhutanese and 27,000 Somalis into the United States this year as asylum seekers. Unlike the Iraqi Christians who for the most part are educated and speak English, the Bhutanese and Somalis are for the most part illiterate and have no skills to function in a modern society. The Bush Administration has also promoted a fast track citizenship program for literally millions of Mexican illegals into the United States. Our fact finding team was never able to get an answer from anyone in the Administration as to why illiterates from third world nations are preferred as asylum seekers over the Iraqi Christians.

KING ABDULLAH - Our fact finding team was scheduled to meet with either King Abdullah or Queen Rania while in Jordan. Unfortunately, Secretary Condoleeza Rice, who was also scheduled to meet the royal couple that week in Amman, suddenly changed the meeting place to London. As a result we were unable to meet the King. However, we met with the top members of his government including the Minister of Interior and ranking officers of the General Intelligence Division.

The government of Jordan does not refer to the Iraqis who have fled the war as refugees, but rather as “our guests.” However, the “guests” are not permitted to earn a livelihood while there.

King Abdullah has put forth a policy that no Iraqis will be arrested or deported because of their status. He has also offered to allow the Iraqi children to attend the public schools. So far 24,000 Iraqi children have signed up for public school. Most Iraqi Christians do not send their children to the public schools because they include Islamic education. While officials say that no Christian child is required to attend the classes on Islam, the Iraqi Christians we talked to said otherwise. Also, many of the teenage Iraqi children work for minimum or below minimum wages to support their families. If the adults attempt to work, they could be arrested and deported. While the King has extended a humane hand, he will not allow those illegally in his Kingdom to take jobs away from his citizens.

LEBANON - There could be as many as 750,000 Iraqi refugees in Jordan. The situation in Lebanon is not as severe because there are estimated to be only 50,000 to 75,000 Iraqi refugees in that nation. Their situation is somewhat the reverse of that in Jordan. In Jordan the Iraqi Christians are treated fairly by the government but ignored by our Embassy and the UNHCR. By contrast, our Embassy in Lebanon, led by Ambassador Jeff Feldman, is attentive to the situation even though directed by the State Department to have all Iraqi refugees vetted by the United Nations. The Ambassador has sent staff to consult with clergy and is well versed in the situation of all Iraqi refugees. This was a stark contrast from our embassy in Jordan.

The Director of the UNHCR in Lebanon, Stephane Jaquemet, was knowledgeable and responsive to our questions. For those questions he could not answer, he promptly found the information and e-mailed it to the fact finding team members. In Lebanon the UNHCR has an aggressive program to seek the release of Iraqis who have been arrested for entering the nation illegally. Unlike at the UNHCR office in Jordan, many of the employees in Lebanon are Christian and the Iraqi Christians seem not to fear going to their office for assistance.

Outside the purview of Ambassador Feldman, we learned that only 32% of the Iraqis sent by the UNHCR for a DHS interview for asylum in the United States are accepted. Most of those rejected are told that their “information was not credible.” In other words the DHS agents were saying that they did not believe their stories of persecution. Perhaps those agents should have seen the display of photos I saw at the church of Chaldean Catholic Bishop Michael Kassarji. The basement of the church is lined with photos of destroyed churches and murdered priests. It was in this church that I met the parents of the girl who was kidnapped, raped, mutilated and murdered. The DHS has yet to interview that family. Will their story be “credible” to the Department of Homeland Security?

On the other hand, the Lebanese government has been aggressive in finding and deporting Iraqis who are in their country illegally. For that reason the Iraqi men are in hiding and it is the women and children who are working, since they are less likely to be challenged by authorities. This means, of course, that the Iraqi children are not receiving any education at all.

SYRIA - The bulk of the Iraqi refugees are in Syria, a nation the United States lists as a sponsor of terror. Our team was originally going to visit the Christian refugees in that nation as well. Unfortunately, just before our departure to the Middle East our visas were withdrawn. This occurred at the same time Syria closed its borders to Iraqi refugees, saying that their nation was being “crushed” by the Iraqi refugee problem. Syria is a secular dictatorship and many Iraqi Christians feel safer there than in Jordan.

While in Jordan and Lebanon we heard unsubstantiated rumors that large numbers of Christian women had been forced into prostitution in Syria to feed their families. A complete report with a formal finding for the President and Congress should be ready to publish in a few weeks.

VIEW VIDEO BLOGS AT: http://youtube.com/ChristianRefugees

MORE PHOTOS AT: http://www.pixagogo.com/6715324176

Friday, October 26, 2007

Is the USA Abandoning Iraqi Christians?

Lets get real! The continued fighting in Iraq is causing a refugee crisis. Many of the refugees are Christians who have been forced out of their homes by radical Islamists. When these refugees come to the US Embassy in Amman, Jordan they are sent away to a United Nations refugee office. We have washed our hands of them and that includes many who were wounded while working for American contractors in various fields including security. It is our war, these are our refugees and they are our responsibility. Sending them to the United Nations for vetting to determine "what nation" they should apply to for asylum is a cop out.

When Iraqi refugees approach the US Embassy in Amman they never see an American Counselor nor do they receive any information sheet of options. Hired Jordanian guards direct them to the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees. Even those who were wounded working for our nation are sent to the United Nations when in fact they are allowed to apply directly. Worse, those who have direct relatives in the United States are also sent to the UN even though they have other options including a form I-130. This is a shameful situation that must be corrected.

Iraqi Christian refugees we talked to are intimidated by the hired Jordanian guards at the Embassy and many do not even approach it. At the United Nations the staff is nearly 100% Muslim and act with disdain toward the Christians who are virtually never called back. Proper advice is not given out by the United Nations to those who seek help. Of 50 in one group we interviewed 48 had relatives in the United States and no one had told them their relative could sponsor them into the United States. Some who had parents who were naturalized US citizens did not know that a simple form could speed up their applications. Meanwhile, the Bush Administration wants to fast track literally millions of Mexican illegals into the United States. WHY?

Journalist Ken Timmerman who is traveling with our mission team has written an expose for NewsMax that is a must read. Click here to read. Click here for our daily video blog!

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Iraq's Christian Exodus

Iraq’s Christian Exodus
Targeted by all sides, Christians must choose to leave, or stay and face death.

By Keith Roderick

The novelist Zora Neale Hurston described one of her characters as a rut in the road, with “plenty of life below the surface but it was beaten down by the wheels.” Since the fall of Saddam, the Christians of Iraq have been beaten down by every wheel in motion: violence, extortion, and murder. In desperation, Christian religious leaders are now openly criticizing the Iraqi government for failing to protect their flocks. Chaldean archbishop Louis Sako recently lamented in the AsiaNews, “In Iraq Christians are dying, the Church is disappearing under continued persecution, threats and violence [are] carried out by extremists who are leaving us no choice: conversion or exile.” Twenty years ago the Iraqi Christian population was estimated to be 1.4 million. The Department of State reported there were almost 1 million in early 2003. U.N. sources claim the figure to be 700,000. Two years after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, it was estimated that 40 percent of the refugees fleeing Iraq were Christian, deliberately targeted in Iraq.

There were 20,000 Christian families living in the Dora neighborhood of Baghdad before the liberation of Iraq. Today, there are only 3,000 families. Most are only partially intact, as members of those families were killed, displaced to other areas in Iraq or fled the country. One in four Christian families living in the major Iraqi cities has left. A religious cleansing is taking place as Muslim extremists either demand that Christians convert to Islam, and send daughters and sisters to convert and marry a Muslim man; or, worse, force families to leave or be killed.

When looking at the critical mass necessary for the indigenous Christian population to survive in Iraq, there is little reason for optimism. At least 25 percent of the Christian population has fled according to conservative estimates, with some arguing a figure closer to one-half. These figures do not reflect an even larger number of internally displaced.

The United Nations Assistance Mission in Iraq reported that attacks on individuals and Christian institutions began to seriously escalate in 2006. Since then, Iraq has seen attack after attack on Christian churches and their leaders. A Catholic and a Syrian Orthodox church in Kirkuk, as well as an Anglican church and the Apostolic Nuncio’s residence in Baghdad, were bombed in January 2006, killing three people.

In September, two other churches were attacked, in Kirkuk and Baghdad, killing two persons, one a child. Several Christian clergymen were kidnapped or assassinated. Fr. Boulos Iskandar Behnam was kidnapped and murdered. His head had been sliced from his body and placed upon his lifeless chest.

In November, Isoh Majeed Hedaya, the president of the Syriac Independent Unified Movement and an advocate for the formation of an Assyrian-Chaldean-Syriac administrative area in the Nineveh Plains, was murdered on his front doorstep. And in December, a high ranking member of the Presbyterian Church in Mosul was murdered. In May, St. George’s Church Baghdad’s Dora neighborhood was bombed for a second time. A Catholic priest and three deacons were murdered outside of their church after saying Mass in Mosul.

Bombs and blood are not enough for the Islamists. Al Qaeda has begun to demand the jizya (protection money demanded of non-Muslims) from Christian families. Those who refuse to pay must leave or be killed. Muqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi army issued a letter to Christians in Baghdad ordering Christian women to veil themselves. The letter warns that those who do not face grave consequences. In an ominous closing note the letter promises enforcement through special committees. Iraqi Christians face terror from both Sunni and Shiite groups.

The story of one such family provides insight on the dramatic effect that the campaign of violence is having on Christians in Iraq. On September 24t, 2006, terrorists detonated a small explosive outside the Church of St. Mary in Baghdad. The explosion drew out parishioners from the church when an even larger bomb detonated, causing massive casualties. Sargon Hanna was one of five persons who directed parishioners back into the Church, knowing the first explosion to be a trap, saving lives. When the second, more deadly bomb exploded, it cost Sargon his leg. A month later, his son Ashur, a security guard for the church, was kidnapped. The kidnappers informed Sargon that he had three options: convert to Islam and report on other Christians, pay a ransom of $200,000, or drive a car-bomb for them, acting as a suicide bomber.

Over a period of ten days his son was tortured with electric shocks and boiling water. When their demands were not met, the terrorists decided to execute Ashur. He was shot in the spine, the bullet exiting through his stomach. Believing him to be dead, his executors threw his body into the street. He survived, just barely. He was taken to a hospital in Baghdad where his condition deteriorated. After thwarting an attempt by a man in a police uniform to shoot Ashur as he lay, paralyzed, in his hospital bed, the Hanna family was convinced they had to flee. Like so many, they now are refugees in Damascus, Syria.

U.S. policies have failed the Iraqi Christians on several fronts. The State Department maintains that it does not designate reconstruction funds on an ethnic or religious basis. USAID and the U.S. Embassy Projects Contracting Office (PCO) have funded projects totaling roughly $2.6 billion in Ninawa Governorate. The Nineveh Plain, with a sizable Assyrian Christian population, is located within this governorate, but only $33 million, or 1.27 percent, was reported to have reached predominantly Assyrian areas, an amount far below their estimated percentage of the population.

Last month Rep. Diane Watson (D., Calif.) questioned the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, Stuart Bowen, at a hearing, “Is there any thought about our policies that are pushing Christians and other minorities out of Iraq where they have lived for centuries?” Bowen responded that she was asking a question concerning State Department policy that he could not answer. Watson concluded her questioning by warning, “I want to be sure that we don't reinforce discrimination, and only focus on those three major tribes, Sunni, Shia and Kurds.” Watson made her concern clear when she stated her belief that U.S. reconstruction policy is resulting in “de-Christianizing this area in Iraq.”

Congress, unlike other government agencies, is beginning to focus in a meaningful way on the plight of Christians and other minorities in Iraq. In a positive step, the U.S. House Appropriations Subcommittee on State and Foreign Operations passed a budget amendment on June 12 that directs $10 million for internally displaced religious minorities in the Nineveh Plain. The amendment, put forward through the leadership of Rep. Mark Kirk (R., Ill.), represents the first formal allocation of funding and acknowledgment of the crisis facing Iraq's indigenous Assyrian-Chaldean-Syriac Christian population.

In October 2003 the Assyrian Democratic Movement, a formally recognized ally of the United States, asked that federalism in Iraq allow for the Nineveh Plain to become an administrative area where they and other vulnerable minorities could share in a new Iraq. Since then, whole populations, activists, and an array of politicians have adopted this vision. That vision must soon become a reality in order to save a people facing destruction.

As Sargon Hanna watches his son slowly die from the wounds inflicted by terrorists in Iraq, he maintains hope in the American vision for Iraq. “They [the U.S.] must find some solution for our people. Yesterday, it was someone, today it was me and tomorrow it will be someone else. This has gone on for too long.” Like the hundreds of thousands of Christian refugees and those internally displaced, Sargon reflects the optimism that their sacrifice will not be in vain and that there will be a place for them in Iraq.

Rev. Keith Roderick is Washington representative for Christian Solidarity International and secretary general of the Coalition for the Defense of Human Rights.

Video blogs available

Printed blogs are coming ... First video blog below: