Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of November 22, 2004
Open Canada's doors to Iraqis
Embassies differ in their treatment of Christian Iraqis trying to flee persecution
A Shepherd's Musings
By BISHOP FRED HENRY
I am distraught, but I pardon our brothers who have killed so many Iraqis like themselves. God pardons them and meanwhile I pray that they be enlightened. But we, in any case, will never leave this country: we are just one family, Christians and Muslims, one large family."
These are the words of His Beatitude Emmanuel III Delly, patriarch of Babylon of the Chaldees in commenting on the attack against Iraqi Christian churches on Sunday Aug. 1.
He recently recalled that moment: "A sudden pain, I was celebrating Mass in a small church in Al-Mansur when they told me of the two car bombs in Baghdad. Half an hour later the car bombs in Baghdad were four and those in Mosul two. At that hour our churches were full of faithful.
"What fault had these faithful? Only that of being Christians. And how many families have lost their women, their children, their husbands. They lost everything on a Sunday afternoon that we Christian Iraqis will never forget."
A planned attack
When asked about the origin of the attacks, Delly answered: "I examine the facts and I say that there was a carefully studied plan, a coordinated plan. It was certainly Islamic extremists who burned the liquor stores of Christians in the last weeks and months, but faced with this attack I can only raise my eyes to heaven and pray to God for the brothers who aimed to kill us."
It is not surprising that at the end of his general audience on Oct. 27, Pope John Paul said in regard to Iraq and in particular for the Christians who live there: "Each day I accompany in prayer the dear Iraqi population, which is intent on reconstructing the institutions of their country.
"At the same time, I encourage the Christians to continue to offer with generosity their own critical contribution toward heartfelt reconciliation. Finally, I express my deep sympathy for the pain of the victims' families and for the suffering of the hostages and all innocent people struck by the blind barbarity of terrorism."
Terrorism, of course, should not be identified with any religion. Terrorist barbarity, no matter what its source, deserves unqualified condemnation.
Furthermore, Christian and Islamic faith communities need to promote a respect for human life above all other beliefs and interests and a willingness to acknowledge and to protect more vigorously the right of others to think, to believe and to act differently.
Despite the daily evidence that the violence against religious groups in Iraq continues to escalate, a concerned group of Iraqi Christians in Calgary has brought to my attention that Iraqi Christians are still experiencing a high rate of refusal at our embassy in Damascus. Considering the current situation in Iraq, the possibility that safety and freedom from religious persecution will prevail in the near future is highly unlikely. Therefore, Canada should consider accepting a higher number of Iraqi Christians applying as refugees and skilled labour at our embassies throughout the Middle East.
Christians have been labelled as collaborators and traitors working for the American government against Islam. Women, especially, are facing increasing threats, and are being forced to wear the Islamic hejab even in the most cosmopolitan capital of Baghdad. Christians who can escape are fleeing to neighbouring Syria, Jordan and Turkey.
In view of current events, I am concerned about the response of the Canadian embassy in Damascus to the plight of Iraqi Christians. According to Citizenship and Immigration Canada statistics published on Feb. 2, the acceptance rate for privately sponsored refugees in Damascus in 2003 was only 44 per cent. In contrast, the acceptance rate for Iraqi Christians with similar refugee backgrounds in Ankara was 87 per cent.
This is a considerable difference, and it appears to becoming even more pronounced as a recent report from the Canadian Council for Refugees states that the acceptance in Damascus has now dropped to 35 per cent in 2004.
Churches in our diocese, through the coordination of Calgary Catholic Immigration Society, have submitted 56 sponsorships for Iraqi Christians in Syria, Jordan and Turkey from January 2000 to the present. Nine cases have been accepted, six have been refused in Damascus on grounds of eligibility, and 36 remain unresolved.
We have been informed that a number of our sponsorships for Iraqi Christians in Ankara have been accepted and will arrive in Calgary sometime this fall. We are pleased that our embassy in Ankara has responded generously to these refugees.
Nevertheless, it is difficult to understand why there is such a notable difference in acceptance rates between our embassies in Damascus and Ankara.
Special concern must be expressed about the low rate of acceptance in Damascus in light of the recent moratorium the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has placed on interviews for Iraqi foreign nationals in Turkey. The moratorium has removed access for refugees to our embassy in Ankara thus making Damascus the only Canadian office where they can apply.
Iraqi Christians are still experiencing a high rate of refusal at our embassy in Damascus.
Minister's optics too limited
Citizenship and Immigration Minister Judy Sgro recently outlined her vision for solving many of the long-standing problems in Canada's beleaguered refugee process. Regrettably, the focus seemed to be more on abuse by "economic migrants."
A much better optic would be streamlining and making the refugee determination process more predictable for those fleeing persecution based on race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group, or on whether they need protection because their lives will be in danger if they are returned to their homeland.
At this time, greater compassion and a more concerted response from our embassies are needed and Canada should also bring these concerns to the UNHCR and urge them to reconsider the present moratorium on interviews for Iraqi Christians in Turkey.
So many in our world have no difficulty in personalizing the story of the flight into Egypt and the massacre of the innocents in Matthew 2.
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