By New Zealand Catholic
Hundreds of thousands of Iraqi Christians, who once made up one of
the largest Christian communities in the Middle East, are facing double
discrimination as displaced persons in their own country or as refugees
abroad, according to agencies working in the field.
Agency sources say Christian refugees who have fled their homes in
Iraq have been ill-treated in refugee camps and frequently ignored in
the selection process for resettlement in other countries or in
reconstruction plans within Iraq.
Christians in Iraq — mostly Catholics of the Chaldean rite — numbered
over 1.4 million, or 6 percent of the population, in 1987. After the
Iraq War, around 400,000 remained by 2013.
At the end of 2015, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees
(UNHCR) reported that more than 4.4 million Iraqis were internally
displaced, and an additional 264,100 were refugees abroad.
In January this year an alliance of 16 UK-based agencies working with
refugees issued a major report declaring that Christians are not being
supported by the international donor institutions and the UNHCR, and are
having to rely on churches that are trying to run their own aid
programmes with limited funds.
“All the NGOs involved in this report state that the vast majority of
Christians and other [non-Muslim] ‘minorities’ avoid UNHCR camps and
facilities because of continuing discrimination and persecution,” the
report said, adding: “It is utterly unacceptable that a place of
sanctuary should be a place of fear that repels those it is designed to
save and protect.”
However, the report said those who remain outside UNHCR camps “have
fared . . . unequally in the allocation of international aid, funding,
political support, media attention, and asylum placements”.
The 88-page report, (1) published by World Watch Monitor (an agency which
“reports the story of Christians around the world under pressure for
their faith”) said all the NGOs involved in the report stated that the
vast majority of Christians and other “minorities” avoid UNHCR camps and
facilities because of continuing discrimination and persecution, so
they do not qualify to receive aid.
Noting that it is UNHCR policy not to record refugees’ religious
affiliation, the agencies urged the UNHCR to scrap its “need not creed”
approach and acknowledge the particular experiences of minorities such
as Christians or Yazidis.
They also urged the UNHCR to employ more nonMuslim registration and
security staff, and translators, to reduce discrimination against
The report contained accounts of Christian refugees approaching UNHCR
and being referred to local churches rather than being processed in the
same way as other applicants.
In addition, it said some NGOs which are assisting Christians to
leave the region have encountered opposition from the UNHCR either
through unnecessary delays or blocked applications.
The report also warned that Christians are being excluded from the
National Settlement plan being put together by Iraq and other regional
powers and presented to the United Nations, further eroding the
likelihood of their return once Islamic State has been militarily
What the UK agencies reported about UNHCR camps was reiterated in an
article (2) by Samuel Tadros on the ABC [Australia] Religion and Ethics
website on January 31, 2017.
“The prioritisation of religious minority application is not only
justified, but would also correct a current wrong,” he wrote. “Out of
14,460 Syrian refugees admitted into the United States since 2011, only
182 have belonged to religious minorities — namely, 124 Christians, 25
Yazidis, 6 Zoroastrians, 3 atheists, 2 Baha’is, 14 ‘other’ and 8 with no
religion. The reason for such a negligible number of religious
minorities is that the United States government depends on the United
Nations for choosing applicants from the refugee camps, and religious
minorities fear living in those camps as they are subjected to
persecution, preferring instead to go to church-run camps.”
An earlier article (3) by Tadros, a senior fellow at the [US] Hudson
Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom, appeared on the same website
on December 12, 2016. Referring to Christian refugees from Iraq and
Syria, he wrote: “Unfortunately there is no longer any Christian
presence in a specific geographic location that would allow the creation
of a safe haven or a country of their own. There is simply no place for
them, no mountain for them, that would protect them.”
The director of the Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom,
Nina Shea, reported on December 8, 2016, that persecuted Iraqi
Christians had been unable to find shelter in UNHCR refugee camps
anywhere in the region.
She wrote: (4) “Monsignor John Kozar of the pontifical Catholic Near East
Welfare Association, run by the NY Archdiocese, told a New York
conference on Dec. 5 that Christians don’t dare enter UNHCR camps for
they would be targeted by Islamic gangs within them. John Pontifex, a
director of the papal agency Aid to the Church in Need, emailed me that
he visited a UNHCR registered camp in Lebanon, from where, he
discovered, all the Christian refugees had fled in fear, opting instead
for the cramped but safer quarters of a nearby Christian home.”
In a Wall Street Journal article (5) on October 7, 2016, Shea wrote that
the UNHCR had marginalised Christians and others targeted by ISIS for
eradication in two critical programmes: refugee housing in the region
and refugee resettlement abroad.
Shea added: “Citing reports from many displaced Christians, a January
report on Christian refugees in Lebanon by the Catholic News Service
stated: ‘Exit options seem hopeless as refugees complain that the staff
members of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees are not
following up on their cases after an initial interview.’ This failure
could be another example of why the U.N. Internal Audit Division’s April
2016/034 report reprimanded the UNHCR for ‘unsatisfactory’ management .
. . .
“As for why so few Christians and Yazidis are finding shelter in the
UNHCR’s regional refugee camps, members of these groups typically say
they aren’t safe. Stephen Rasche, the resettlement official for the
Chaldean Catholic Archdiocese in Erbil, Iraq, told Congress (6) last month
that in Erbil ‘there are no Christians who will enter the UN camps for
fear of violence against them’ . . .
“Persecuted groups also found no help from the UN-established
Independent Commission of Inquiry on Syria in its only report on ISIS
genocide. Issued in June, the report focused solely on persecuted
members of the Yazidi faith. The commission — an influential adviser
to the UNHCR — dismissed in a short paragraph the notion that Christians
also have been targeted for genocide.”
In an earlier article (7) (July 21, 2016) Shea had written: “Today there
is a complete absence anywhere in ISIS-controlled territory of
functioning churches, active clergy, and intact Christian communities.
“[I]n the three major areas — Nineveh, Raqqa and Qaryatayn — where
ISIS claims to have ‘offered a jizya [per capita tax] option’, the offer
has always, within a short time, been followed by the rape, murder,
kidnapping, enslavement, and dispossession of Christians — all acts
evidencing the crime of genocide.”
A Jewish voice in support of Christians facing extinction in the
Middle East was heard (8) at an interfaith panel in New York on December 5,
“Today we are witnessing the world’s indifference to the slaughter of
Christians in the Middle East and Africa,” said Ronald S. Lauder,
president of the World Jewish Congress and former US ambassador to
Austria. Referencing the Holocaust, he said, “Since 1945, genocide has
occurred again and again. ‘Never Again!’ has become hollow. You can’t
just declare genocide and say the job is done. You have to back it up
“Jews know what happens when the world is silent to mass slaughter. We learned it the hard way,” Lauder added.
The UK-based Barnabas Fund, an international, interdenominational
agency supporting persecuted Christians, has frequently raised concerns
about discrimination against Christian refugees fleeing genocide.
In a January 12, 2017, statement, it said: (9) “Christians who have fled
Iraq and Syria to nearby countries are largely ignored by the UN, with
97–99 per cent of those refugees selected for resettlement in the UK and
USA being Muslims. Meanwhile those Christians who make it on their own
to European countries such as Greece, Germany and Sweden are placed in
refugee shelters where many are targeted by Islamists and are subjected
to death threats and physical violence. At the moment there is little
sign that Western countries will significantly alter their policies in
In an earlier statement (10) (December 22, 2016), the Barnabas Fund
accused the UNHCR of “institutional discrimination” in how it operates
on the ground.
It said this was shown by the fact that the proportion of Christians
among Syrian refugees being resettled had fallen to less than 1 per cent
in both the UK and the US, despite that fact that prior to the civil
war Christians made up around 10 per cent of Syria’s population.
“The fact that they are so grossly underrepresented when they have
been specifically targeted for at least the last four and a half years
implies that both the US and UK governments would rather outsource their
refugee programmes to an international body that blatantly
discriminates against those facing genocide, than go to the trouble of
selecting refugees themselves in a fairer and less discriminatory way.
By doing so, they risk seriously tarnishing the previously high
reputations of both counties for compassion, fairness and justice.”
On September 7, 2015, the New Zealand Government announced it would
accept 750 extra refugees from Syria, over a three-year period. Media
reports suggest that few in this group are Christian, although
Christians account for 10 per cent of the population in Syria.
(8) Catholic News Service Panel: Genocide, wars, indifference will make Mideast Christians extinct
December 6, 2016
References by Baghdadhope