San Diego Chaldeans Call For Asylum For Iraqi Christians In March Through El Cajon

By Susan Murphy
San Diego Chaldeans and community members march on Main Street in El Cajon at a rally to show support for Iraqi Christians, Aug. 19, 2014.
Hundreds of Iraqi Chaldeans and other community members marched through the streets of El Cajon on Tuesday evening calling on the U.S. to grant asylum to tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians.

They carried crosses and held up signs and banners. Among the messages on the signs: “Save Iraq, Save Humanity” and “Stop The Murders.”

“Please America, please western world, please wake up and see what’s happening to the Christians and minorities in Iraq,” said Sajed Gaggi, a Chaldean from El Cajon who left Iraq in 1998.

Gaggi said he fears a mass genocide if the U.S. doesn’t open its doors.

“If you do not take action very soon, hundreds of thousands of people will be finished, will be killed,” Gaggi said.

The Peace Walk started at St. Michael Chaldean Catholic Church and continued for a mile to El Cajon City Hall. The line of about 500 marchers weaved through busy intersections. Their chanting voices echoed through the East County valley, which has become a refuge to tens of thousands of Iraqis since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion in Iraq.

Marchers chant “save Iraqi Christians” as they rally through El Cajon, Aug. 19, 2014.

“We have a moral obligation to speak out,” said Stephen Nissou, one of the people who organized the march.

With violence rising in Iraq, thousands of refugees are fleeing the country. Nissou said those seeking refuge and protection from Islamic militants need to be able to come to the United States and other countries.

Among the peaceful marchers was Salam Gorgees, who moved to San Diego from Iraq five years ago.

“We want to just let them know that we’re all together and we’re supporting them,” Gorgees said. “They’re not alone against the terror and the bad people, so I hope our voices are reaching them.”

Manal Michael, who also arrived to San Diego from Iraq in December 2008, said many of her family members remain in Baghdad. She said she’s very worried.

“There is no electricity, there is no water, they cannot leave home,” Michael said. “My brother left his job six or seven months [ago] because of the ethnic genocide there. He stopped his children from going to school because his son and his daughter were persecuted.”

Marchers hold up crosses and signs calling for asylum for Iraqi Christians, on the corner of Magnolia Avenue and Main Street in El Cajon, Aug. 19, 2014.

Julian Raheema, who came to San Diego from Mosul, said his parents, two sisters and brother are on the run near Erbil.

“They are in an apartment, they are renting an apartment,” Raheema said. “So expensive, no food, no anything like the basics of life. It’s very very tragic.”

Raheema said he feels helpless and hopes his family can join him in the U.S. soon. Marching has given him a voice, he said.

“I am here to share my voice for people who have power, who have action to stop these crazy ISIS people, stop the genocide for Iraq Christians, the minorities, also the Yazidi people,” Raheema said.

Ansam Nagib is hoping her parents in Baghdad can join her in the U.S. soon. Until then, she said she’ll march and show her support for her homeland in any way she can.

“I want to show our people, our families back there that we’re with them,” Nagib said. “With our prayers, with our hearts and our thoughts, (we) are with them.”

The event concluded at the El Cajon Civic Center, where Chaldean leaders and other speakers called for more help from the U.S. and the world.

“We’re here to give voice to the voiceless,” said Mark Arabo, a spokesman for the region’s Chaldean community and CEO of the Neighborhood Market Association in San Diego.

Arabo has led an effort to lobby the Obama administration and San Diego County’s congressional delegation to take action against Islamic militants and grant asylum to fleeing Iraqi Christians.

An estimated 80,000 Iraqis have settled in San Diego County, with the majority Chaldean Christians. After Detroit, San Diego County has one of the largest populations of Iraqi immigrants in the United States.