Posted by: newperspectives85 | February 6, 2012

2.6.12 where do Iraqi Christian refugees go from here?

Where Do Iraqi Christian Refugees Go? Turkey (2810) Here’s the situation they find when they get there. Share Read more:

ISTANBUL — For Sarmad, translating e-mails from English to Arabic for fellow  Iraqis is a welcome change from the incessant fear of murder he lived through in  Iraq. In his hometown, Mosul, attacks on Christians have been an almost-daily  reality throughout the past few years since the ousting of Saddam Hussein in  2003.

“I was stopped at the university,” Sarmad recalls. People he describes as “terrorists” told the 18-year-old mechanical engineering student, “If you come  here again, we will kill you.”

Full names in this article have been withheld upon request.

Al Qaeda in Iraq has targeted the country’s fast-disappearing Christian  population, describing them as “legitimate targets” and causing unknown hundreds  of thousands to flee in recent years. Out of an estimated 800,000 to 1.3 million  Christians during the Hussein era, now less than half are thought to remain in  the country.

Since an Oct. 31 attack on Baghdad’s Our Lady of Salvation Church, thousands  more Iraqi Christians have run to Turkey. Exact figures are unknown, but  Chaldean Church records show more than 600 arrivals in December 2010 alone,  which exceeds the total arrivals for all of 2009.
The Oct. 31 attack  began when Islamic militants with ties to al Qaeda took Sunday worshipers  hostage. As police moved in, 58 people, including two priests, were killed.  According to accounts of the carnage, a young child was killed when one of the  attackers blew himself up inside the church. Over 100 more were wounded.

The latest arrivals are seeking asylum in Turkey and applying for formal  refugee status in the hope of transfer to third countries, such as the United  States, Canada and Australia. According to Father Gabriel, a Turkish Chaldean  priest from the east of that country and now on sabbatical from his parish in  Brussels to assist refugees in Istanbul, the resettlement process takes about  two years.

Sarmad is part of the influx that fled to Turkey after the Baghdad bloodbath.  He was joined at the Chaldean-Assyrian Solidarity Association (KADER) office by  Sandra, a 21-year-old from Baghdad who, along with her seven-strong family, made  the long bus journey to Istanbul “as soon as we could leave” after the Oct. 31  attacks.

“We were living with fear in our hearts for a long time,” she says. “My  mother and I were threatened many times.”

Now Sandra is helping out at the KADER office, volunteering her time to  distribute donated clothes to fellow Iraqis now sheltered by the Chaldean  Catholic church in Istanbul. The office is just around the corner from St.  Anthony’s, the largest Catholic church in Istanbul, and these days, alive with  Iraqis happy to worship without fear.

Father Gabriel says the work is a challenge, but adds, “It is surely also a  beautiful thing for me to be able to help.”

He asks that people in the West pay greater attention to the plight of Iraqi  Christians, saying, “People are destroyed, angry, helpless.” He adds that trauma  and shock is a factor. “Some of the refugees here have seen people killed,  people shot, blown up, even their own family — inside a church.”

‘Iraqi Blood Is Sacred’

There seems to be little happening on the ground to protect Iraq’s  Christians, or to prevent the annihilation of a community that predates Islam in  Iraq by six centuries and some European conversions to Christianity by a longer  period.

Some Muslim leaders in Iraq have acknowledged this, and at “The Religions’ Dialogue” conference recently held in western Baghdad, Ahmed Abdul Ghafour  al-Samarrai, head of the Sunni endowment in Iraq, said “Iraqis are one body. If  the Christian part suffers, the rest of the Muslim body will respond to it.  Iraqi blood is sacred; you cannot cross a red line.”

However, it remains to be seen whether the group that perpetrated the Oct. 31  attack will pay any heed to these words.

An estimated 2 million or more Iraqis of all religions and ethnic groups have  fled since 2003, but some have started to return as violence drops from the  2004-2007 peak. Last year, a total of 118,890 Iraqi refugees and internally  displaced persons returned to their country and homes, according to the United  Nations.

However, the plight of Christians seems to be worse. The European Union  debated the issue after the Oct. 31 attack and called for a halt to violence.  However, in mid-January, Sweden deported 24 Iraqi asylum seekers, citing a more  stable situation in Iraq. Some of the group were Christians. “European countries  don’t open their doors,” said Father Gabriel.

Europe is not a preference for Sandra or Sarmad, however, and Australia and  the U.S. are  the favored resettlement options. “My uncle is in Sydney,” Sandra  said. “I hope I can join him there.” Sarmad wants to go to America, but first  he must help his family escape. “They are living in a small town not far from  Mosul,” he said, “but cannot afford to travel now.”

His status as asylum seeker means that he cannot work in Turkey, while  awaiting resettlement. Father Gabriel says KADER and other groups working with  Iraqis desperate to leave need money. “Families often cannot afford to travel,” he said.

Nonetheless, the new influx continues, day by day. Sarmad cut in during an  interview, saying that “today seven more of my friends are leaving from Mosul.  They have had enough.”

“Today?” asked Father Gabriel. “Yes,” came the reply. “They will be here  tomorrow.”


Register correspondent Simon Roughneen filed this story from  Istanbul.

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