West’s Delay in Helping Iraqi Christians Similar to US Turning Down Jewish Refugees in 1939, Says Aid Group

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John Coleman (Photo: Reuters)
Iraqi Christian refugees who have fled the violence in Northern Iraq after the Islamic State (ISIS) claimed many regions under their “Islamic Caliphate.”
The West’s continued procrastination in aiding displaced Iraqi and Syrian Christians has similarities to the U.S. turning down German Jews seeking safety in 1939, Christian aid group Barnabas Fund says.

Thousands of refugees from the Middle East are seeking asylum after the Islamic State invaded regions of northern Iraq, including Iraq’s largely Christian city of Mosul. Both the U.S. and Canada are accepting refugees, but Barnabas Fund notes that this process takes years to process and requires dangerous travel through the Middle East.

“If this area continues to grow as rapidly as it did last year, many Iraqi Christians seeking to emigrate to the safety of North America could have been killed before their applications have been processed,” a post by Barnabas Fund notes. “The situation has echoes of the U.S. decision in 1939 to turn away a ship laden with German Jews seeking safety, over a quarter of whom died in the Holocaust after they were forced to return to Europe.”

Since June 2014, more than 150,000 Christians have fled their homes after Islamic State militants left them with an ultimatum: convert to Islam, pay a religious fine, or face death by the sword. The militants have declared cities in Iraq and Syria as their “Islamic Caliphate.” In total, about 1.2 million people have been affected by the conflict in Iraq.

Many Iraqis have fled to other regions in Iraq to seek safety. However, because they have not crossed international borders, they are not considered “refugees” by many international guidelines and cannot receive resettlement programs from other countries; they are instead referred to as “internally displaced persons” (IDPs).

If an Iraqi IDP can cross the border into neighboring Turkey, then they can apply for refugee “status” with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which the U.S. State Department describes as a necessary step in order to resettle in the United States. However, Barnabas Fund notes that the trip to Turkey would require Iraqis to travel dangerously close to Islamic State territory and would require years of living in hostile Turkey before the application processes.

Other options are also available for Iraqis who have close relatives in the U.S., where they can register for resettlement at the American embassy in Baghdad. But again, the only way to get to Baghdad requires travel through Islamic State territory, which Barnabas Fund describes as a “suicide mission” for Christians.

“The long delays in processing their applications to flee to America, one of the receiving countries with the greatest capacity to absorb immigrants, could have disastrous consequences in the unstable and unpredictable environment of the Middle East,” Barnabas Fund writes. “Could the U.S. not have compassion on them and speed up its processes?”

The UN’s study, titled Living in the Shadows, reports that two-thirds of approximately 620,000 registered Syrian refugees are living below the poverty line, with one in six making do with less than $36.90 a month. Female-headed households are worse off, as one in five suffers from abject poverty.

The U.N. previously published a study in March last year where only 14 percent were reported below the poverty line. UNHCR now reports that there has been a “clear deterioration” for the conditions of Syrian refugees.

“Unless the international community increases its support to refugees, families will opt for ever more drastic coping strategies,” U.N. refugee chief Antonio Guterres said, according to BBC. “More children will drop out of school to work and more women will be at risk of exploitation, including survival sex.”

Barnabas Fund said that Canada and many nations in Europe have also developed some strategies to help refugees, but are also responsible for the long delays in helping Iraqis leave the warn-torn regions in the Middle East.

“The present-day situation is starkly reminiscent of U.S. refusal to allow entry to 907 Jewish refugees on board the St. Louis that sailed from Germany on 13 May 1939. Denied permission by the American authorities to dock at Florida, the ship was forced to return to Europe where the passengers were given refuge in the U.K., Belgium, France, and the Netherlands so that they did not have to return to Nazi Germany,” Barnabas Fund concluded.

“Tragically, of the 620 passengers who went to mainland Europe, 532 were trapped there when Germany invaded in 1940. Of these, 254 (all of whom had been admitted to Belgium, France or the Netherlands) died in the Holocaust, that is almost 28% of the ship’s passengers.”