With the severe and barbaric actions of the Islamic State (ISIS) toward the Christian and minority population of Iraq, innumerable phone calls and emails began pouring into the parishes of St. Peter Diocese. The pleas were all the same, that the persecuted refugees be able to leave Iraq and join their families in the United States. In response to the thousands people begging for help, St. Peter Diocese responded by accepting their request and began to collect names of individuals who desire to leave Iraq. Each of the forms collected included names of sponsors who live in the United States and are willing to assist in settling the refugees. A group of over twenty volunteers gathered in the St. Peter Cathedral Rectory to collect and digitize the thousands of forms pouring in from all over the country. After 12 days and over 100 hours, the final total of Chaldean Christians desiring to leave Iraq numbered at 54,760. In addition to this, another 15,000 names were collected in earlier stages, bringing the list total close to 70,000.
A Call to Action
On September 16, 2014, His Excellency, Mar Sarhad Yawsip Jammo, flew into Washington DC to meet with officials of the United States Government concerning the current situation of the Christians being persecuted in Iraq. Traveling with the Bishop were Mark Arabo and two sisters from The Workers of the Vineyard. While in DC, the group included Rabbi Avraham Berkowitz who accompanied them to all of their meetings, asking that as much as possible be done for the many Christians who have fled their homes and villages at the hands of ISIS.
The delegation met with different members of Congress, the US State Department and the White House, including Congressman Juan Vargas, Congressman Brad Sherman, Congressman Henry Waxmen, Congressman Scott Peters, Congresswoman Susan Davis, Congresswoman and former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Democratic Whip Congressman Steny Hoyer, Chief Policy Advisor for the Speaker of the House John Bohener, Congressman John Lewis, Congressman Forten Berry, Congressman Duncan Hunter, Congressman Al Greene, Congresswoman Maxine Waters, Iraqi Ambassador to the US Lukman Faily, Anne Richards, Marina Andina, Andrew Kim, Melissa Rogers, Keith Abouchar, and Katherine Haley. Different members of Congress, White House, and State Department officials were given special blessings by the Bishop. The massive file was brought and presented in DC to show the evidence of what the people want in order to push the United States to grant more Visas into this country.
Congress – His Excellency, Mar Sarhad Yawsip Jammo, along with Mark Arabo, Rabbi Avraham Berkowitz and two Sisters from the Workers of the Vineyard lobbied for co-sponsors for the House Bill 5430 authored by Congressman Juan Vargas. If passed the bill will do the following, 1. Allow people fleeing Iraq to receive refugee status; 2. Allow the refugees to expedite processing in order to receive visas; 3. Allow fleeing refugees to come directly to the US without going through the UN.
In a meeting with the California Democratic Delegation, Mar Sarhad spoke of the necessity of the US government to wake up and realize that the best solution is to bring the fleeing refugees to the US by granting them Asylum Visas. With somewhere between 120,000 to 150,000 Christians scattered in the mountains of Kurdistan without proper shelter or civilized living conditions, it is time to take action. The delegation emphasized that children who should be in school do not even have houses to sleep in. In the end, this cause has nothing to do with faith, it has to do with humanity. With so many people being denied basic human rights, the fight is no longer about faith, but survival.
State Department – The group met with Assistant Secretary of State Anne Richards making the case for the 70,000 names collected of individuals wanting to leave Iraq. The delegation made the case for immediate action, asking for a plan of how to get the people on the list out of harm’s way. The State Department was also asked to begin immediately processing the visas in Arbil.
White House – The delegation made the case for the 70,000 wanting to leave, asking if President Obama received the list and what the plan is for rescuing these Christians and Yezidis. The group discussed with the White House representatives the need for executive action to be taken concerning the situation in Iraq.
Raising Awareness in the United Nations
In a press briefing on Friday, September 19, a delegation of Chaldean Americans representing the plea of thousands of Iraqi Christian and minorities gathered in the UN. His Excellency, Mar Sarhad Yawsip Jammo spoke on the exodus of Christians that has been taking place since the early 1960’s. The continued persecution has greatly depleted the Christian population in Iraq. In addressing this issue, Mark Arabo spoke on how the Christian population in Iraq has gone from 1.4 million Iraqi Christians in 2003, to less than 400,000 in 2014. Mark Arabo urged the world to wake up to the humanitarian crisis taking place in the Middle East. He offered a three part solution to the current situation starting with humanitarian aid for those who are stranded and struggling after fleeing their homes and villages. He proposed creating a safe zone for those who wish to stay in their home land, and finally that those individuals who wish to leave the country be given safe passage to neighboring countries as well as granting them asylum visas. In this way, both immediate and long term action can be taken to give as much aid as possible to the Iraqi Christians who are living through horrific times.
Chaldean Media Reporter