Iraqi Christians Spurned by U.N.

By: Kenneth R. Timmerman Article
Ibrahim N., 30, was a translator for U.S. forces in Iraq for nearly three years. But when Islamists posted his name on a “hit list” in a Sunni mosque in Baghdad late last year, he figured it was time for him to leave.

So like hundreds of thousands of his fellow Iraqis, he came to Jordan, hoping to take advantage of a pledge by President Bush to expedite the relocation of up to 7,000 Iraqis at risk of persecution to the United States. But for the past nine months, Ibrahim and many others like him that Newsmax interviewed in Amman, has run into a brick wall, and the U.S. embassy in Jordan has done nothing to help.

“I can’t even get past the embassy guards,” Ibrahim said in a meeting brokered by Iraqi Christian pastors who are attempting to aid the fragile refugee population. Ibrahim’s story is not unique, but it provides a window onto a much larger problem of bureaucratic stone-walling and out-of-touch U.S. diplomats who do nothing to meet with refugees out in the community.

It is a story that often ends in tragedy.

Christians who have fled their homes in Iraq after attacks by Islamist extremists now face a Catch-22 situation in Jordan, as they attempt to work through the U.S. embassy to relocate with their families to the United States.

Ibrahim first came to the vast, luxurious new U.S. embassy complex here in Amman nine months ago, but was told by the Jordanian guards that he couldn’t come in, even though he had letters from three separate U.S. Army units in Iraq attesting to the excellence of his service with them in Baghdad.

“On the fifth visit, they told me to go to the UNHCR [United Nations High Commission for Refugees],” Ibrahim said.

The United Nations High Commission for Refugees has been selected by the U.S. State Department to conduct initial interviews of Iraqis who say they are fleeing persecution to determine if their fears are legitimate, even though other U.S. embassies with smaller staffs conduct the screening themselves.

“The U.N. employees treated me like a dog,” Ibrahim said. “They treated me like a spy who had betrayed the Arabs, because I had worked for the Americans.” He told the Arab U.N. employees that he fled Baghdad after his name had appeared on a hit list in a mosque. “The woman asked me, ‘What kind of mosque?’ When I said it was a Sunni mosque, she gave me this look full of hatred.”

Jordanians are predominantly Sunni and tend to sympathize with Iraqi Sunnis. The Jordinians don’t want to hear such stories of anti-Christian persecution, Christian pastors and refugee advocates told Newsmax in separate interviews.

When his application with UNHCR for relocation went nowhere, Ibrahim learned of a new program at the U.S. embassy that was designed to give former coalition employees “direct access” to Department of Homeland Security teams sent out from Washington to conduct background investigations of potential immigrants.

The DHS teams, known as “circuit riders,” travel from embassy to embassy interviewing potential refugees on a regular schedule, especially in the Middle East.

Ibrahim filed a new application through the International Office of Migration, IOM, to get on the DHS schedule. But four months later, he has heard nothing. “Just because they worked for some part of the U.S. government, they don’t necessarily meet the requirements for entry into the United States,” a senior U.S. diplomat told Newsmax in Amman, addressing the case of Iraqi translators such as Ibrahim who fled after death threats from Islamists.

Asked why the U.S. embassy didn’t conduct its own interviews with the translators, the diplomat said that it was State Department policy to go through the United Nations to determine who had legitimate claims to political asylum.

“I don’t think the United Nations should have any say about who comes into the United States,” said former South Carolina Gov. David Beasley, in Amman on fact-finding mission to meet with refugees. “It’s a sovereignty issue. The United States alone should make those decisions.”

Beasley has worked for the past decade on humanitarian issues, and runs the Center for Global Strategies in Columbia, SC., which promotes dialogue and peace-keeping missions in the Muslim world.

He was accompanied by Father Keith Roderick, of Christian Solidarity International; William Murray, of the Religious Freedom Coalition; William Warda, who runs the Hammuraby Human Rights Organization in Baghdad; and Newsmax.

“These are Iraqis who put their lives on the line to protect our U.S. soldiers,” Beasley said. “When we’re letting illegal immigrants walk across our Southern border, it’s a shame that we can’t provide a decent process for people who’ve laid their lives on the line to protect and defend our interests in Iraq.”