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.



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