Last month, Bishop Francis
Kalabat, the head of the Chaldean Catholic Church for Michigan,
testified in front of a U.S. House subcommittee, where he panned the
Obama administration for ignoring the suffering of Christian refugees
displaced by war in Syria and Iraq, proclaiming that the U.S. should
prioritize its refugee programs by focusing on resettling Christians.
The remarks have left some
local Muslim leaders unsettled, causing another road bump in what some
perceive to be a shaky relationship between the Muslim and Chaldean
community in metro Detroit over the last year.
Since the Paris attacks and
the San Bernardino shootings, talks of halting the U.S. refugee
programs have ensued due to worries that terrorists might infiltrate the
According to Kalabat, the U.S. should do more to protect and resettle Christian refugees.
"There are countless
Christian villages in Syria that have been taken over by ISIS and have
encountered genocide," Kalabat said. "And the Obama administration
refuses to recognize their plight. … I say, shame on you."
He went on to argue that
Christians in the Middle East have not been involved in any of the
terrorist activities, thus warranting them the right to easy access to
"Christians have not been
part of any terrorist activity, but instead have been the targets of
terrorist activities," he said. "And now they are being looked at as
possible terrorists. This is simply unfair."
As for what to do with
innocent Muslim refugees, Kalabat suggested that perhaps they should
just resettle in other Middle Eastern countries.
"Here’s my point, where is
the best place for a Muslim-Syrian refugee to settle?" he asked.
"Kuwait or Germany? Saudi Arabia or Canada? Qatar or America? 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."
Martin Manna, president of
the Chaldean American Chamber of Commerce, shared sentiments similar to
Kalabat’s when he appeared on a WJBK FOX 2 News program in December.
The refugee stance the
Chaldean leaders have taken have ruffled some local Muslim leaders, who
argue that Muslims have been the biggest victims of ISIS.
Dawud Walid, executive
director of the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR-MI), said
Kalabat’s stance is intolerant and offensive, adding that he is not
surprised by the remarks.
"There has been unfortunate
tension between the Chaldean and Muslim community in our region," Walid
said. "It’s highly disappointing that a Chaldean leader, a man of God,
is capitalizing off of what he knows is the flavor-of-the-month
Walid noted that
prioritizing refugees based on religion is a discriminatory practice and
one that already occurred during the administration of George W. Bush.
Walid said that following the Iraq war, the U.S. accepted far fewer Muslim refugees than it did Christians.
"During the Bush
administration, Muslims were held up and viewed as potential national
security threats," Walid said. "The majority who were resettled in Syria
and Jordan were Muslims. The ones who resettled in America and Michigan
were Christian Iraqis. This type of discrimination already took place
from our government."
Nabil Romayah, a Chaldean
American local leader and president of the Iraqi Democratic Union, said
the refugee crisis and the genocide targeting Christians in the Middle
East are two separate issues that should not be associated with each
other by the U.S. government.
"Regardless of their
country or religion, these refugees are humans," Romayah said. "They
have families and they are trying to escape from deaths and bad
situations. I am a Chaldean and I understand the issue of the
Christians; it’s a huge problem. They are being persecuted because of
their religion and identity and this is something that needs to be
addressed by the international community. Looking at the refugee issue
and deciding what groups need to be saved is wrong."
Nathan Kalasho, founder of
Keys Grace Academy Charter School and president of I.N.V.E.S.T.
(International Network for Vocational Educational Skills Training), said
he would support measures that protect all vulnerable refugees,
regardless of religion.
Kalasho and his family
operate multiple schools in metro Detroit that cater to immigrant
families and preserve the Chaldean, Assyrian and Syriac cultures through
education. He noted that his students are a diverse group from various
"This diversity is
important, as it serves as a microcosm of this country's wonderful
society, especially in Southeast Michigan," Kalasho said. " In fact, we
recently received and enrolled a beautiful refugee family from Syria. We
make no distinction of race, religion or nationality; and neither do
these wonderful children and teenagers."
He added that many Western leaders are emphasizing the Christian refugees because they are often overlooked in Muslim regions.
"This issue is very
delicate and it's important to have a broader perspective on why His
Excellency Bishop Francis feels that way" ,Kalasho said. "The
Chaldean/Assyrian community is beginning to think that the region simply
no longer accepts us. And since Christians only account for 4 percent
of the Middle East population, western leaders surmise that the
community members wishing to flee should have equal or greater access to
a country like the US. Many point to the idea that Muslim communities
would fare better in other Muslim-dominated states. That is not to say
such an idea is true, but it lends credence to Bishop Francis's
suggestion. I support measures that protect all vulnerable communities."