By Detroit Free Press
The head of the Chaldean Catholic Church for Michigan and the eastern
half of the U.S. sharply criticized the Obama administration Wednesday,
saying it has largely ignored the suffering of Christians displaced by
war in Syria and Iraq and should do more to protect and resettle them.
before a U.S. House subcommittee, Bishop Francis Kalabat of Southfield
said while the State Department may soon declare that the Yazidi people,
a religious minority in Iraq, face genocide at the hands of the Islamic
State or ISIS, it leaves unaddressed problems faced by other religious
“There are more than 150,000 Iraqi Christians who are
now displaced in northern Iraq or are refugees in other countries such
as Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey,” Kalabat said. “There are countless
Christian villages in Syria that have been taken over by ISIS and have
encountered genocide, and the Obama administration refuses to recognize
their plight. … I say, shame on you.”
Kalabat delivered his
impassioned testimony to the subcommittee on Africa, Global Health,
Global Human Rights, and International Organizations as it considered
the circumstances of religious minorities displaced by fighting in Syria
and Iraq and the actions taken against them by ISIS. According to
witnesses, religious minorities have faced sexual violence, forced
conversions, killings and other threats.
While the U.S. has
accepted tens of thousands of refugees from Iraq and Syria since 2011,
the large majority have been Muslims, causing some to argue for more to
be done specifically for Christians and other religious minorities. That
call has become more urgent as ISIS has continued to gain ground and in
the face of recent terrorist attacks.
subcommittee hearing was held against a backdrop of increasing concern
over fighting in the Middle East and whether extra precautions should be
taken regarding refugees from Syria and Iraq in the wake of last
month’s attacks in Paris, for which ISIS took credit. More than 130
people died in the attacks, leading to worries terrorists might try to
infiltrate the U.S. via refugee programs.
The U.S. House has
passed legislation, which President Barack Obama has vowed to veto, that
would effectively halt his plans to resettle some 10,000 Syrians in the
U.S. by next October. This week, the House also passed a bill by U.S.
Rep. Candice Miller, R-Harrison Township, to tighten the visa waiver
program for anyone who has traveled to or is a dual citizen of Syria and
bills’ restrictions would be nondenominational and include Christians
and other religious minorities, which Kalabat denounced, saying,
“Christians have not been part of any terrorist activity but instead
have been the targets of terrorist activities. And now they are being
looked at as possible terrorists. This is simply unfair.”
White House, meanwhile, has continued to say it will do everything it
can to hit its resettlement target, without being drawn into debates
over the religious background of those being resettled. The vast
majority of the some 4 million displaced by war in Syria and Iraq are
At the hearing, subcommittee Chairman Chris Smith,
R-N.J., said the administration should declare the persecution faced by
Christian religious minorities in Syria and Iraq constitutes genocide.
Such a determination could trigger legal obligations to offer aid,
asylum and other protections and would likely change American strategy
in the region.
“Each day, our newspapers, magazines, radios and
television screens are filled with images of people fleeing territory
controlled by the Islamic jihadist group known as the Islamic State,”
said Smith. “The crisis has become the largest displacement crisis in
the world, with 3.8 million people having fled to Lebanon, Jordan,
Turkey, Iraq and Egypt, in addition to those internally displaced.”
have been raised, however, that the refugee resettlement system in
place in the Middle East works against Christian and other religious
minorities. According to reports — including one last month in the
Washington Post — members of religious minorities can face violence in
refugee camps and try to avoid them, but the United Nations draws much
of its refugee pool from those camps.
Meanwhile, as religious
minorities, their adherents and supporters say, they have far fewer
places to move safely to across the region, leading some, including
Kalabat, to suggest that the U.S. and other western nations should offer
more refuge to Christians displaced by war.
“Here’s my point,
where is the best place for a Muslim-Syrian refugee to settle? Kuwait or
Germany? Saudi Arabia or Canada? Qatar or America?” he said. “My point
(is) it is much easier for an Arab refugee to start over in a country
where the language is the same, the culture is similar and the official
religion of that country is the same.”
pointedly noted the dire threats faced by the Yazidis, who the U.S.
Holocaust Memorial Museum has said is the target of genocide, as well as
other Muslim groups themselves and was quick to say that he did not
mean that “no Muslim Syrian or Iraqi refugee should enter a western
country,” a distinction important in the wake of Monday’s statement by
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump that Muslims should not
be allowed into the U.S.
Kalabat called for the U.S. to join with
nonprofit groups and churches to “ensure the efficient delivery of aid”
to refugees as well as recognizing that Christian groups, as well as the
Yazidis, face genocide in the region. Doing so, he said, “would send a
powerful signal to the United Nations and every member of the
international community to act on their plight.”
He also called for creation of an “autonomous region” where Christians and other religious minorities can be settled.