Christian Iraqis Can’t Leave Jordan

Christian refugees who lost everything when they fled their homeland in Iraq now face a new hurdle on their way to a new life.

They are being told by the United States government that their refugee applications has been denied because they have provided “material support” to terrorists.

The cold, bureaucratic words have been baffling to many. But officials at the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in Amman cleared up any doubts as to the meaning.

“They told me, you have helped terrorists and so cannot come to America,” said Sanaa Boutros Hannah.

Ms. Hannah, 37, told Newsmax her story at the Assyrian Orthodox church in Amman, Jordan.

She and her husband, Ayad Barkho, fled Iraq last year after Muslim terrorists had kidnapped their daughter.

The kidnappers demanded they pay a $10,000 ransom if they ever wanted to see their child again. And so they raised the money frantically from friends and relatives.

“If it was your son or your daughter who was kidnapped, what would you do?” she asked.

Ayad Barkho used to teach English in Baghdad. Now he is unemployed in Jordan, living off of donations from charity, churches, and family.

Until recently, the Barkhos’ sole hope of a better existence was to emigrate to America. And until recently, they thought they were almost there.

Unlike thousands of other Christian Iraqis, they had cleared the dreaded screening process by indifferent and often hostile intake officers at the United Nations High Commission for Refugees in Amman, and been selected for resettlement.

They were interviewed by the International Office for Migration, and cleared by them for a security review by a visiting team from the Department of Homeland Security.

The Barkhos thought they were set to go — until the fateful letter from USCIS arrived on Feb. 20, telling them their refugee application had been put on hold, pending further review because of “material support.”

The Barkhos are not alone. At a meeting with Father Ammunual Istifan Issa al Bana, a Syrian Orthodox priest who ministers to an Iraqi congregation in Amman, dozens of Iraqi refugees said they knew of at least 50 families who had received similar letters in recent months.

Newsmax has interviewed several dozen Iraqi Christians who have told harrowing stories of ransoming their relatives and who have not yet received such letters. But apparently, they soon will.

All refugees receive a security screening from the Department of Homeland Security in Washington, which sends out teams of interviewing officers on periodic “circuit rides” across the Middle East.

“When we leave from a circuit ride, it’s about 67 percent of the individuals are either approved or conditionally approved. They’ll turn into approval eventually,” explained Lori Scialabba, the senior adviser for Iraqi Refugee Issues to DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff.

“Thirteen percent are denied and about 17 percent are put on hold for various reasons, material support, employment verification, awaiting documentation, they need further research. There’s all sorts of reasons. A number of those will turn into approvals and a number of those will turn into denials,” she added.

At a hearing last week, Scialabba said that DHS was committed to President Bush’s goal of approving 12,000 Iraqis into the United States during the current fiscal year.

To meet that goal, she said DHS has “devoted additional resources to reviewing material support cases that may be eligible for duress exemptions.”

But the numbers cannot begin to give an idea of the horrible human sufferings these Christians have undergone.

Beida Rousko JoJo, 31, considers herself lucky. She expects to emigrate soon to Canada along with her 12-year old daughter, Rita, because her husband was a Canadian citizen.

For Beida and Rita, they are going to freedom. Both know the world they have left behind.

Beida will never forget the date her husband was killed. It’s the type of thing that is burned into the memory of victims everywhere, the one thing no one needs help remembering, even though the memories are painful.

On Sept. 14, 2004, Beida remembers getting a call from her husband as he was leaving work in the Daura district of Baghdfad to come home.

“He called and he told me, they’re trying to kill me,” she told me in her cramped, one-room apartment in a Christian refugee slum in Amman.

“I rushed to that place, and found him. We took him to the hospital, where he died.”

Five people had attacked him as he left his job and riddled his body with 30 bullets, just because he was a Christian.

“They had put his name on a list to be killed in a mosque,” she said. “He managed to get his name removed, then his name appeared on a list in another mosque.”

Twelve-year-old Rita serves us water, and insists that we take it. “I don’t like this place,” she tells us. “I don’t want to go back to Iraq. I want to go to Canada.”

She smiles, and the whole future opens up in her face.