Iraqi fled to metro Detroit, tells story

WASHINGTON — Saying she was arrested in the 1990s because her brother fled Iraq and was assaulted repeatedly during three months in captivity, Julet Yousef of Sterling Heights told her story in the nation’s capital Tuesday.

The 49-year-old woman, who made it to metro Detroit in September with her three daughters, was a guest of honor at a reception Tuesday for the creation of a House Caucus on Religious Minorities in the Middle East.

The hope is that the bipartisan group will be able to make Iraq more secure for religious minorities, including Chaldeans like Yousef, and pressure the government to increase the number of people from vulnerable populations who are resettled in the United States, said Joe Kassab, executive director of the Farmington Hills-based Chaldean Federation of America.

Speaking little English, Yousef — using Kassab as her translator — described her ordeal with security forces targeting her around the time of the first Persian Gulf War because she was Christian and her brother had fled the country. Yousef says she was repeatedly assaulted and released only when she agreed to convert to Islam.

She and her family fled with the help of human smugglers who were paid $1,500.

“I was very worried my girls would be kidnapped,” she said through Kassab.

Kassab has long been pushing for Congress and the Bush administration to make Christian neighborhoods in Iraq more secure, and to increase the number of Iraqis resettled in the United States.

On Tuesday, he said about 4,000 have immigrated — though the State Department promised to bring 7,000 in by last October.