National Security & Defense

Saving Vulnerable Middle Eastern Christians

Shrine at the Mazar Mar Eillia Catholic Church in Erbil, Iraq, December 2014. (Matt Cardy/Getty)
Calling it genocide.

‘Christians fear genocide in refugee camps,” an ad paid for by the Knights of Columbus states. ISIS targeted Christians when they took over Iraq, driving them from their homes, and now, according to reports, won’t let them alone in exile refugee camps. They’re being targeted because they are Christian.

The g-word has been used by Pope Francis to describe what is happening in and around Iraq and Syria. But reports suggest that while the White House may acknowledge what has been happening to the Yazidis there as a genocide, Christians won’t be named.

With attention on refugees coming West, the pending extinction of Christianity in its cradle is getting lost in political debates. The Knights of Columbus have a fund — Christians at Risk — to provide direct assistance to Christians from Iraq and Syria; head Knight, Carl Anderson, talks about what the Christians are facing. – KJL

Kathryn Jean Lopez: Why is the word genocide so important when it comes to Christians in the Middle East? 

Carl Anderson: The word genocide is important because what is happening in the Middle East to Christians fits the legal and commonly understood definitions, and calling it anything less does a disservice to those who face this horrific situation. In addition, a declaration of genocide can help trigger much-needed action.

Lopez: How sure are we that Christians are not safe in refugee camps?

Anderson: The key is that Christians there are sure they are not safe. And clearly there are major security issues for them. As a result, they don’t go to these camps and as a result they don’t get “refugee status,” and thus visas and asylum in the West become increasingly impossible for them.

Lopez: Do we have any idea how many displaced Christians are in refugee camps?

Anderson: We know that there are not very many Christians in the official camps, because of their fear for their lives and safety in those places. As a result, they often end up in urban settings or in unofficial camps, so they do not get the refugee status they would need to get additional benefits, emigrate, etc.

Lopez: How do we protect girls from being kidnapped by sex traffickers?

Anderson: That is no easy task in today’s Syria or Iraq. There needs to be stability and the reintroduction of law and order in the regions that no longer have it, or these people need to be allowed to move to places that are safe — whether within the region or beyond it.

Lopez: Is Jordan proving to be a good friend to displaced Christians from Iraq and Syria?

Anderson: Jordan has been very helpful in many ways, but there is only so much any one country can do. As a recent article in Express – a UK paper — makes clear, even refugee camps in Jordan have been infiltrated by hit squads targeting Christians. That said, in many ways, Christians refugees have it better in Jordan than they do in many other countries, but by all accounts, their presence there is not a long-term solution.

Lopez: How should this information guide our deliberations about refugees?

Anderson: Lost in the debate over whether we should allow Middle Eastern refugees into the country is the fact that Christians are particularly vulnerable given the fact that they face genocide along with other religious minority groups. But these Christians are falling through the cracks. The system is set up to confer refugee status on those who go to these official “refugee camps.” Christians don’t feel safe there, for good reason, so they never get the necessary documentation to immigrate to other countries. There needs to be a solution that addresses the deficiency of these camps and their de facto exclusion of Christians as a result of their safety issues. Those who face genocide shouldn’t be forced to the back of the line by a bureaucratic process that endangers their lives if they try to access it.

Lopez: What is the greatest need you see?

Anderson: The Christians in Iraq and Syria need hope. It is in short supply after years of being homeless and on the run. Hope needs to take the form of safety, security, stability, and a future. Hopefully, these things can be restored to their home countries, but if it cannot, we must look for other solutions as well.

Lopez: How are you tracking the use of the money you raise?

We should find ways to overcome the bureaucracy that is not conferring refugee status on Christians, who are particularly vulnerable.

Anderson: One hundred percent of the money we raise goes directly to assist Christian refugees and refugees of other religious minorities, and to raise awareness about their plight. We then distribute the money, primarily via aid agencies that are on the ground in these regions — including Catholic Relief Services, Catholic dioceses, health care clinics, etc. They have kept us well informed of how they have used the money we have provided, and they are doing great work to alleviate the suffering these people face. For instance, the health clinics have provided us a detailed report of how they have spent the money donated, and the Church agencies have also been very good about documenting expenditures and answering any questions we may have.

Lopez: Who was the young girl you recently brought to Connecticut and how is she doing?

Anderson: Katreena is a young 15-year-old girl, with a number of medical conditions that were exacerbated when she had to flee as Mosul and the surrounding region fell and Christians were forced out, often losing everything they had. Her condition couldn’t be adequately addressed in Iraq, so the clinic we fund there recommended she come to the United States for evaluation and treatment. After about a month here, where her condition was stabilized, and she was put on a treatment regimen that she can continue there, she and her mother returned home to their family.

We learned that had we not brought her here, she would have undergone an unnecessary surgery that had been scheduled by a hospital there. It almost certainly would have killed her, given the complexity of her health problems. She was literally in the car on the way to the hospital to have that surgery when she got word she could come here for evaluation and treatment. They then canceled the surgery, and as a result, she is alive today and is getting the treatment she needs.

Lopez: What would you like the U.S. government to be thinking and doing about genocide as pertains to Christians in Iraq and Syria and in refugee camps?

Anderson: First, we should call it genocide. Second, we should find ways to overcome the bureaucracy that is not conferring refugee status on Christians — who are particularly vulnerable as a group that has been targeted for extinction by this genocidal campaign. It is remarkable that those who face genocide keep being forced to the back of the line by these circumstances.

— Kathryn Jean Lopez is senior fellow at the National Review Institute and editor-at-large of National Review Online. She is co-author of the new revised and updated edition of How to Defend the Faith without Raising Your Voice. Sign up for her weekly newsletter here.

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