Push to assist Iraqi refugees fleeing violence

By Richard Allyn,
AN DIEGO (CBS 8) – As the situation in Iraq continues to deteriorate, a new Congressional resolution expected to be introduced this week could provide much-needed help to members of Iraq’s religious minorities fleeing violence, persecution and killings in their war-torn homeland.

“Every day is getting worse,” said San Diegan Mark Arabo, president of the Neighborhood Market Association and a leader of the local Chaldean-American community. “This is a global humanitarian crisis.”

More than a half a million people have been displaced by the current conflict in Iraq, as Sunni insurgents expand their control over the divided country, reportedly targeting, persecuting and killing Iraqi religious minorities, including Iraqi Catholics, or Chaldeans.

“We want to make sure we protect, not just Chaldeans and Christians in Iraq, but the entire region, because it has global ramifications,” Arabo told CBS News 8.

To that end, Arabo has been tirelessly lobbying Congress and other political leaders, helping to draft a new resolution expected to be introduced this week by San Diego Democratic Congressman Juan Vargas.

This proposed resolution calls on the Obama administration to expedite the visa process for members of Iraq’s minority groups trying to relocate to the United States and to increase the number of Iraqi Christians granted asylum in the U.S.., without increasing the limit of 70,000 refugees in total granted asylum here each year.

“What we’re saying is, keep the 70,000 level – don’t issue more visas – but reallocate it so that instead of 10,000 coming from the Middle East, make it 50,000 or make it 40,000, just to give these children and families a shot to live,” Arabo said. “I would say that anywhere they are facing genocide should be prioritized.”

Arabo said that this resolution, which has already garnered bipartisan support, could be introduced as early as Wednesday before the House Rules Committee.