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Current Issue
December, 2017
Volume 43, Number 4
  
23 September 2014
Michel Constantin




Iraqi refugees gather outside a makeshift dispensary in Erbil. (photo: CNEWA)

The Christian Presence in Iraq

The Iraqi Christian community, perhaps the oldest in the world, has survived more than 1400 years under Islamic rule in its homeland. During the first 500 years of the golden age of Islam, the Christians participated and shared in the shaping of the most advanced civilization of its time. Then, during the downfall period under the barbarian invasion of the Mongols in 1258, followed by the Ottomans and different brutal military invasions and occupations, the Christians remained in their homelands continuously, sometimes in harmony and many times in fear with their Muslim neighbors.

Unfortunately, the Christians could not hold on and support the last wave of modern Islamization. The brutality of ISIS militants and the marketing of this brutality over social media succeeded in creating shock and terror among all minorities of northern Iraq. On 6 August, the Christian presence in Mosul and Nineveh plain faded completely along with their trust in the international community and Baghdad and Kurdish governments, the latter of which withdrew their forces from the Christian towns over night, leaving more than 130,000 Christians without any kind of protection and subject to the brutality of unmerciful militants.

Lacking options and weapons to defend themselves, all Christian inhabitants fled to save their lives and those of their children. At midnight, they left with few garments and headed further north to find shelter in the Kurdish territories. Some drove through the desert for many hours to avoid military confrontation and ISIS checkpoints, other slacking the means of transportation had to walk for more than ten hours before reaching safe areas. Children, elderly, and all families found themselves helpless and alone under the burning sun of August, where the temperature reaches 48 degrees Celsius (118 Fahrenheit). The Kurdish government provided them with only permission to stay in their territories safely; besides security, nothing was available. The only shelters they had were the backyards of the churches and some unfinished commercial centers transformed into temporary camps with primitive textile partitioning.

The Christians of the Nineveh Plain were considered the elite of the Iraqi population in the north, largely because of their education, occupying the best positions in the majority of skilled fields requiring advanced educations. They were counted among the best medical doctors, the best teachers, the best engineers, etc. They believed they could make a difference and worked hard from one generation to another to create a more open society where an individual is accepted and respected for what he is and not for his religious beliefs. Unfortunately, their efforts did not yield positive results, and the people with whom they lived for over 1400 years decided to attack them and force them to either convert to Islam or leave. There is little surprising about their collective decision to leave.

Refugees gather inside the temporary dispensary to receive medical care. (photo: CNEWA)

CNEWA Representatives Visit to Iraq — 2-5 September, 2014

Since the early days of the displacement, CNEWA’s Beirut office has been in continuous contact with the local church in Erbil and with the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena, showing solidarity and figuring out the best ways to accompany them and help reducing the suffering of refugees.

On 2 September, a delegation from Beirut composed of Michel Constantin and Imad Abou Jaoude, representing CNEWA, and Sister Marie Claude Naddaf from the Good Shepherd Sisters, representing all the female congregations in Lebanon, headed to Erbil to better understand the humanitarian situation and to get in direct contact with the local church people who are involved in reaching out for the refugees.

Our activities during this visit could be summarized as such:

  1. We first met with the Syriac Catholic Archbishop Boutros Moshe of Mosul, who himself was displaced from Qaraqosh with more than 130,000 Christians of all denominations from nine villages and towns in the Nineveh Plain.

    To get to the archbishop’s office in Martha Shmouny Center in the quarter of Ain Kawa, a neighborhood of Erbil initially inhabited by Christians, we passed through a large crowd mainly composed of children with their mothers waiting for their turn to get a vaccine from a field dispensary set up in a small tent where doctors — themselves also displaced from the hospital in Qaraqosh — were providing medical services to hundreds of Christian refugees.

    The archbishop received us in a steel container located in the front yard of his church in Erbil. Three priests helped him to register the displaced families. The archbishop explained to us that the most urgent need at present is to provide a primary health care center.

    We visited the dispensary outside the displacement center and met with the Rev. Behnam Benoka, a Syriac Catholic priest in charge of the dispensary. Father Benoka explained that at present, there are only two dispensaries taking care of the Christian refugees; the first one is called Habib al Maleh — a private dispensary, run by a Chaldean director, and supported by the Kurdish government. The second is an on-site dispensary installed during the first days of displacement inside a tent on the sidewalk outside Martha Shmouny Center. Fifty staff members operate the facility, all of them displaced and volunteering their expertise and time for free. Among the volunteers are 15 medical doctors from the hospital in Qaraqosh, in addition to 15 medical assistants and 20 volunteers.

    The dispensary receives an average of 500 patients every day and provides vaccinations for the children. The patients are from all displacement centers of Erbil.

    An empty garage has been turned into living quarters for refugees. (photo: CNEWA)

    The urgent need at present is to extend the dispensary by providing four prefab rooms and a large new tent to serve as a reception area. Each room will serve as a clinic for one doctor according to each specialty — internal medicine, pediatric, gynecology, ophthalmology, etc. — and will be equipped with the basic needed equipment. The dispensary will be located in the front yard of the displacement center of the Syriac Catholic Church. Martha Shmouny will provide services all over the day and the doctors will be shifting to cover the needs of all patients.

    Regarding the second major problem that they have which is the provision of proper shelter for the displaced people, Archbishop Moshe informed us that a commercial building called Ain Kawa Mall was put by the owner under the disposition of the refugees, to be partitioned to shelter 100 families on each of three large unfinished floors. We visited the location and met with the contractor who was assigned by UNHCR to prepare the first floor.

    The cost of each floor is estimated at U.S. $150,000 — or an average of $1,500 to shelter one family — including a collective sanitary bloc and a common cooking area.

    The total cost of partitioning the two floors to accommodate 200 additional families is estimated at $300,000.

  2. Then we visited the Redemptorist Chaldean Archbishop Bashar Wardah of Erbil and Chaldean Archbishop Emile Shimoun Nona of Mosul at the Chaldean Archbishopric of Erbil, also located in Ain Kawa. Archbishop Bashar of Erbil informed us that the food rations, water tanks and mobile toilets will be ensured through the donation of the central government of Baghdad. He is in charge of communicating with the government on behalf of all the refugees.

    He also emphasized on the urgent need to provide primary health care and to find shelter for families living in the backyards of churches. The families without shelter are estimated at around 1,500 families.

    Archbishop Bashar also informed us that, through his connections with the Kurdish government, two large storage hangars have been made available to the refugees. We visited the location with the archbishops and inspected the potential shelter. Each hangar can be partitioned into 25 private rooms, and each room is large enough to accommodate two families, the sanitary block could be ensured through the mobile toilets and showers provided by the government of Baghdad. The cost of partitioning of each warehouse is estimated at around $45,000 to $50,000.

  3. We then visited a number of religious congregations working with the refugees in their convents. We visited the Chaldean Daughters of Mary, the Chaldean Sacred Heart Sisters and the Syriac Catholic Ephremite Sisters. The next day, at the patriarchal Chaldean seminary in Ain Kawa, we met all 32 sisters and priests who were displaced with their people. They are presently very active in reaching out for the refugees in all the settlements. The meeting was the first of its kind and every sister and father was pointing out the different difficulties facing their daily work with the refugees. This meeting was very important and gave us the broader vision for the needs assessment and the priorities.

Sister Maria Goretti Hanna, O.P., and Good Shepherd Sister Marie-Claude Naddaf meet refugees in Erbil, Iraq, during a visit earlier this month. (photo: CNEWA)

Needs Assessment

First of all, it is very important to mention that the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena are providing a real witness of accompanying the poor in their daily sufferings and remaining with them through every step of their walk on this unprecedented crisis.

Among all the sad stories and the uncertainty of all the refugee families, I saw a shining light through the common life of the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine, and all the sisters living among the families. It was really a remarkable situation, where the poor help the poor and refugee reaches out to refugee. The solidarity among the different congregations is so strong that the superior general of the congregation has prepared in the backyard of the convent a place to install prefab rooms to accommodate all the refugee sisters, regardless of congregation. And in the morning the sisters, along with the brothers from the Congregation of Jesus the Redeemer, would leave two by two — like the apostles — to serve in the displacement centers.

As for the needs of the refugees, it is very difficult to prioritize the needs as they are living on the streets and are practically in need of everything.

Following are the needs by sector:

  1. Capacity building and coordination efforts: Despite all the good intentions, we felt that both the people and the churches are still dealing with the situation as a temporary one. They are still in shock, waiting for a miracle to happen or to wake up from the nightmare and to resume their lives as though nothing had happened. During the meeting, we shared with them our experiences in Syria and advised them that as long as time passes, the difficulties will increase and the needs and the sufferings will be greater. For all these reasons it is very important to coordinate the efforts, and to come up with a plan for the needs of the refugees and to address the world accordingly.

  2. Shelter: The majority of the displaced Christian families are currently living either in schools or in tents outside the church properties of Ain Kawa and Erbil. This situation cannot continue indefinitely; by mid-September, the great majority of the families living in the schools will have to evacuate. The Kurdish Authority has already sent warning notes, and some schools were evacuated during our visit.

    In the absence of any statistical effort, we estimate the number of families living in tents and in schools at around 2,500 to 3,000 families in Erbil only. Archbishop Emile of Mosul informed us that the worst refugee conditions are in Erbil, since in the northern cities of Duhok and Zakho and in Suleimaniyah most of the refugees are either living with their relatives or have rented small apartments and are sharing them with other families.

    It is to be mentioned that the rent cost in Erbil, and especially in the Christian neighborhood of Ain Kawa, is very high and is estimated at an average of $1,500 per month for a two-bedroom apartment.

  3. Health: The issue of health care is very important, as a good proportion of refugees used to rely on a public insurance system provided by the central government of Baghdad, especially for public employees. This system is not applicable in the Kurdish territories, and private medical care is extremely expensive. Therefore the local dispensaries that provide primary health care and on-site medical services are extremely important for the lives of the refugees.

  4. Education: The problem with the education issue goes beyond the scarcity of enrollment openings in the Kurdish schools. There are also cultural barriers, since the curriculum taught in the Kurdish schools relies on the Kurdish language, while all Christian students used to rely on the Arabic as the first language in their curriculum.

  5. Employment: A good proportion of Christian refugees used to work for the government, either as teachers, doctors, engineers, or workers in the oil sector or industries owned by the Iraqi government. All these employees used to get their salaries from the central bank branch of Mosul. Since the invasion of Mosul in June 2014,employees could not retrieve their salaries. Even at present in Erbil, the lack of trust between the Iraqi Kurdish authorities and the Iraqi central government in Baghdad, and the lack of any mechanism to transfer the salaries to Erbil, has left refugees without any source of income.

    Moreover, because of the crisis in Syria and the displacement of large numbers of Syrian Kurds to Erbil, Syrian Kurds became the priority in private and public employment at the expense of the Christian Iraqis.

  6. Food and essentials: At present, food and other critical supplies are provided through local donations and the Christian funds available by the central government and the Ministries of Religious Affairs and the Emigration. Archbishop Bashar Wardah is leading the efforts and has been successful.

  7. Winter items: The weather in Kurdistan is dry and arid desert weather, where the temperature in summer reaches around 50 degrees Celsius (122 degrees Fahrenheit) and in winter falls drops to freezing from November until early March. Therefore, enduring the winter will require wool blankets in addition to winter clothing — especially for children — in addition to heating fuel and heaters.

  8. Spiritual and trauma healing support: Many of the families found themselves, in a blink of an eye, losing everything. Many who were well off in their homelands found themselves on the streets. In order to maintain their hope and their faith, huge efforts must be exerted to support all the local churches and religious people to maintain their activities and to provide the families with psychological support. This holds especially for mothers, on an individual and collective basis, to help them accept their new situation while waiting for a solution and end to their problems.

Recommendations

  1. Start with establishing a good, well-equipped dispensary in Erbil that could enhance the efforts of the volunteer staff and improve the quality of the services provided to the displaced families. The tent currently used as a dispensary suffers insufficient sanitation and ventilation, especially in Iraq under the extreme weather conditions.

  2. Help Archbishop Moshe to establish a small center for people with special needs in the multipurpose hall.

  3. Help the sisters in their efforts to provide basic necessities for newborn children — a need not yet covered by any donors — and to purchase some underwear items for children as well as some basic urgent needs.

CNEWA has already started implementing this phase in coordination with the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena and Syriac Catholic Father Behnam Benoka. For this purpose, CNEWA has allocated the amount of $75,000. A first payment has been already transferred to the sisters’ account as of 9 September.

As for later phases, they will be elaborated during further visits and through continuous consultation with our church partners.



Tags: Iraq Iraqi Christians Iraqi Refugees Relief

28 August 2014
Greg Kandra




Palestinian civil defense officers in Beit Lahiya, Gaza Strip, inspect the rubble of a destroyed tower shortly after the cease-fire was announced on 26 August. (photo: CNS/Mohammed Saber, EPA)

Catholic aid organizations — including CNEWA — are hoping the latest cease-fire between Israel and Hamas will hold. CNS spoke with CNEWA’s regional director in the area:

“This is a window of opportunity,” said Sami El-Yousef, Catholic Near East Welfare Association’s regional director for Israel and the Palestinian territories. “[We hope] the unity government will take the lead. A lot of people here think the stage is set [for] a meaningful resumption of negotiations. Now it is up to leaders on both sides to make it happen, to move beyond [the same political hurdles.]

“Both leaderships must rise up to the occasion for us to move forward. Otherwise, the temporary cease-fire may last for a few months, then we will be back to the resumption of hostilities.”

The cease-fire that took effect 26 August calls for the easing of the Israeli-enforced embargo to allow humanitarian aid and construction material into Gaza under strict monitoring. Egyptians, who brokered the cease-fire, will open the Rafah crossing into the Gaza Strip. Terms also include enlarging the offshore zone for Palestinian fishermen to six miles.

The agreement was the latest of numerous attempts to end a seven-week conflict in which more than 2,100 largely civilian Palestinians and 70 Israelis, including 64 soldiers, were killed.

The organizations have coordinated their aid efforts, with Caritas Jerusalem focusing on food and cash assistance while Catholic Relief Services is distributing nonfood items and CNEWA is assisting with repairing damaged homes and institutions.

Father Raed Abusahlia, director of Caritas Jerusalem, said his agency’s long-term emergency appeal would last until Christmas. He said Caritas will provide food to 2,000 families as well as a cash distribution about $350 to all the Christian families in Gaza, with specific emphasis on those who lost all of their possessions and homes.

Caritas also will provide all the necessary school supplies for the students of the five Christian schools in Gaza, although it is not clear when school will begin.

“At the same time we have already sent three truckloads of food, diapers, milk and hygiene supplies last week,” he said, noting that the almost $84,000 worth of supplies came from local Catholic parishes as well as four Israeli groups.

El-Yousef said response to CNEWA’s earlier appeal for help from its donors has surpassed expectations, largely thanks to donations from European donors; he said donations would soon top $1 million. He added that the money will be largely used to help rebuild and rehabilitate Christian homes and institutions damaged during the conflict.

Read more.

To learn how you can help Gaza’s traumatized families, please drop by our giving page.



Tags: CNEWA Gaza Strip/West Bank Israeli-Palestinian conflict Relief Middle East Peace Process

26 August 2014
Greg Kandra




In this image from 2010, Sister Marie-Claude Naddaf arrives for the Synod of Bishops for the Middle East at the Vatican, accompanied by Msgr. Philippe Brizard, former director of the aid agency L’Oeuvre d’Orient. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)

Today, we received an email from Michel Constantin, CNEWA’s regional director in Beirut, with some important news on the work being undertaken to support our suffering brothers and sisters in Iraq.

Michel notes he will be visiting Iraqi Kurdistan in early September — to coordinate better our activities to expedite relief — and he’ll have some company:

The Union of the Superior Generals of women religious in Lebanon decided to participate in this visit, to show solidarity with other congregations and sisters working in Iraq. Sister Marie-Claude Naddaf (superior general of the Good Shepherd Sisters) will represent the union and accompany CNEWA in this visit.

The president of the union, Sister Judith Haroun, has asked all member congregations to contribute financially and to collect funds to help the following congregations at work in Iraq:

  • The Dominican Sisters of Saint Catherine of Siena

  • The Chaldean Sisters of Mary

  • The Sacred Heart Sisters

  • The Syrian Catholic Ephremite Sisters

  • The Franciscan Sisters

Michel also noted that CNEWA will be coordinating its work with Sister Marie-Claude to make sure funds will be distributed where they can do the most good and have the greatest impact.

At a time when so many in Iraq are feeling desperate, overwhelmed and forgotten, this visit from Sister Marie-Claude and others can be a powerful and consoling witness — and, God willing, a beacon of hope. CNEWA is proud to be able to lend our support and to stand alongside these sisters and so many others who are bringing the love of Christ to those who today are so desperately in need.

Won’t you join us? To help Iraqi Christians under seige, just visit this page — and you will stand with us as we stand with them.



Tags: Iraq Iraqi Christians Sisters Iraqi Refugees Relief

21 August 2014
Imad Abou Jaoude




A man kisses the ring of Cardinal Fernando Filoni during his visit to Erbil, Iraq, last week. (photo: CNS/Azad Lashkari, Reuters)

Imad Abou Jaoude is an engineer and projects manager at CNEWA’s regional office in Beirut.

Please note the latest we have on the situation of displaced Iraqi Christians. Sister Marie Goretti of the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena reports that the situation is still chaotic, and that they are doing their best to provide a proper stable place for the displaced families. There is a meeting today between different bishops, church communities and local authorities to organize better the work among them.

The largest refugee camps in Erbil and Dohuk are being coordinated by the Syriac Catholic Archeparchy of Mosul, and Sister Goretti is in close contact with Archbishop Yohanna Boutros Moshe. They are proceeding with the logistics necessary to support the mobile toilet and showers donated by CNEWA’s benefactors. They are also moving along with acquiring milk supplies and diapers for infants and children rushed by CNEWA.

Traveling to the city of Dohuk, where other camps for displaced Christian are located, is now a three-hour trip; 40 minutes more since my last visit. Travel has been diverted into the mountains. Sources have advised me not to go there for the time being, especially if I have a foreigner with me, and to limit my stay in Erbil or Suleimanieh.

Meantime, I can report Erbil is now safe, especially after the U.S. attacks on ISIS, and many international organizations are working there with lots of foreigners — Europeans, Americans and others. Ain Kawa, the Christian neighborhood in Erbil where most of the Christian camps are established, is a very safe area, for now.

I will keep you updated, especially as the bishops, priests, sisters and volunteers — reeling still from their violent expulsion — need more time to organize their work.

Visit this page to learn more about how you can support displaced Iraqi Christians.



Tags: Iraq Iraqi Christians Sisters Iraqi Refugees Relief

18 August 2014
Michael J.L. La Civita




CNEWA has been a consistent source of support for the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena, here shown helping a patient in the Al Jamh-Al Zahrawi hospital in Mosul, Iraq, in 2004.

To alleviate the suffering of some 100,000 homeless Iraqi Christians, Msgr. John E. Kozar, president of CNEWA, is rushing $75,000 to partners in northern Iraq for urgently needed supplies for infants and children, as well as sanitary facilities for displaced families seeking shelter in U.N.-sponsored camps.

“The response of our donor public to the needs of their brothers and sisters in Iraq has been overwhelming,” Msgr. Kozar said of the CNEWA campaign launched in North America. “These funds represent that generosity, and are an initial installment to help the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena and the Chaldean and Syriac Catholic archbishops meet the most basic needs of their homeless flock.”

Ordered by fighters of the extremist group ISIS to convert, pay protection money or die, about 20,000 Christian families fled their villages in the Nineveh Plain for refuge in Iraqi Kurdistan earlier this summer. They arrived in Dohuk and Erbil with little more than a change of clothes, leaving behind their homes, belongings, jobs and businesses. Some found shelter in churches, convents, monasteries and schools, but most have found space in schoolyards, open to the searing summer heat and the blazing sun.

Msgr. Kozar said the emergency approach of Catholic Near East Welfare Association will encompass several phases, and will incorporate, as appropriate, CNEWA’s ongoing commitment to the churches of Iraq. This includes, among other activities, support for Catholic hospitals in Baghdad and care for endangered children.

“Diapers and milk for infants and children are not included in the food packages distributed by the United Nations and other relief organizations,” said Msgr. Kozar. “Also, our partners on the ground tell us portable sanitary facilities — toilets and showers — that can accommodate those with special needs are desperately needed. These funds will help secure these basic needs.

“In addition to providing assistance to those hunkered down in northern Iraq, our staff in Amman and Beirut is already working with the local churches in Jordan and Lebanon, respectively, where hundreds of Iraqi Christian families have just arrived, to assess and prioritize needs.

“CNEWA takes seriously its mission to accompany the church — even in flight — and to respond to the needs of all people, especially the poor and marginalized,” Msgr. Kozar said. “And thanks to our generous friends and benefactors, we can build up the church, affirm human dignity, alleviate poverty, encourage dialogue and instill hope.”

An agency of the Holy See, CNEWA works throughout the Middle East, with offices in Amman, Beirut and Jerusalem. On behalf of the pope, CNEWA works for, through and with the Eastern churches, rushing aid to refugee families; providing maternity and health care for the poorest of the poor; assisting initiatives for the marginalized, especially the children, elderly and disabled; and offering formation and supporting the education of seminarians, religious novices and lay leaders.

Click here to join us in this important work.



Tags: Iraq CNEWA Iraqi Christians Iraqi Refugees Relief

18 August 2014
Greg Kandra




Pope Francis answers questions from journalists aboard the papal flight from Seoul, South Korea, to Rome on 18 August. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)

Pope Francis once again took questions from reporters on the airplane en route back to Rome, and he made some news:

Pope Francis said the use of force can be justified to stop “unjust aggressors” such as Islamic State militants in northeastern Iraq, but he declined to endorse U.S. military airstrikes against the militants and said such humanitarian interventions should not be decided on by any single country.

The pope also said he was willing to travel to the war zone if necessary to stop the violence.

Pope Francis made his remarks 18 Aug. during an hourlong inflight news conference on his way back from South Korea.

In response to other questions, the pope acknowledged a need to lighten his work schedule for the sake of his health; said he might make a combined visit to the U.S. and Mexico in 2015; and explained why the Vatican is still studying whether the late Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero should be beatified as a martyr.

The pope’s words on Iraq came a week after his representative in Baghdad welcomed President Barack Obama’s decision to use military force against Islamic State positions.

Asked about the airstrikes 11 Aug. Archbishop Giorgio Lingua, the Vatican nuncio to Iraq, told Vatican Radio: “This is something that had to be done, otherwise [the Islamic State] could not be stopped.”

That statement surprised many because, since the pontificate of St. John Paul II, the Vatican has stressed that military interventions for humanitarian purposes should have the support of the international community.

When a reporter on the plane asked Pope Francis whether he approved of the airstrikes, he replied:

“In these cases where there is unjust aggression, I can only say that it is licit to stop the unjust aggressor. I underscore the verb ’stop’; I don’t say bomb, make war — stop him. The means by which he may be stopped should be evaluated. To stop the unjust aggressor is licit, but we nevertheless need to remember how many times, using this excuse of stopping an unjust aggressor, the powerful nations have dominated other peoples, made a real war of conquest. A single nation cannot judge how to stop this, how to stop an unjust aggressor. After the Second World War, there arose the idea of the United Nations. That is where we should discuss: ‘Is there an unjust aggressor? It seems there is. How do we stop him?’ But only that, nothing more.”

The pope said his recent appeal to the U.N. to “take action to end the humanitarian tragedy now underway in Iraq” was one of a series of measures he had considered with Vatican officials, including his decision to send Cardinal Fernando Filoni to the region to meet with church and government officials and refugees.

“In the end we said, should it be necessary, when we get back from Korea I can go there,” he said. “At this moment it is not the best thing to do, but I am willing.”

He had much more to say about war, his health, and his upcoming travel schedule. Read it all.



Tags: Iraq Pope Francis War

14 August 2014
Michel Constantin




An Iraqi Christian refugee rests at St. Joseph’s Church in Ain Kawa, Iraq, on 8 August. Witnesses claim refugees are dying in the crowded camps. (photo: CNS/Sahar Mansour)

Let me start with the Iraqi Christian refugees in Lebanon. I met with Chaldean Bishop Michel Kassarji today, who informed me that he has received the past few days around 190 new Chaldean families from Iraq, and it seems the Lebanese authority is granting tourist visas to Iraqis at their arrival at the Beirut airport.

He expects a major influx of Christian Iraqi refugees into Lebanon in the coming few weeks; many of the families who fled their homes are in the process of getting valid passports. Once they have passports, family members in the West secure plane tickets for them to head to Beirut. At their arrival, Bishop Kassarji provides each family (only once) with a food and hygiene package, mattresses and covers. Syriac Catholic Father Hanna Yako confirmed that some 250 Syriac Catholic families have also arrived in Lebanon from Iraq, also carrying tourist visas.

These families need basic items, such food and water, sanitary products, medicines and nursing formula. Those with chronic health problems (diabetes, heart ailments, etc.) need immediate attention.

As for the general situation of the Christians inside Iraq, I spoke with a Chaldean priest who served in a parish near Mosul, and who is visiting Beirut to see his family, who are emigrating West. Father Aram explained to us that the last wave of displacement of Christians in northern Iraq happened as follows:

  • Within the Chaldean Archeparchy of Mosul, which includes Chaldean Catholics of Mosul, Tal Keif and Qaramlesh, more than 2,000 families fled their homes to find refuge in the Kurdish towns of Zakho, Duhoc and Erbil.

  • In the Syriac Catholic Archeparchy of Mosul, which includes Mosul, Qaraqosh, Bartella and Baashiqa, more than 11,000 families were displaced to Kurdish towns. More than 9,000 of these displaced families are Syriac Catholics. The rest belong to Assyrian Church of the East or the Chaldean Catholic or Syriac Orthodox churches.

  • In the Chaldean eparchy of Al Qosh, which includes Al Qosh, Tal Eskef, Batnaya, Baaqoufa and Jambour villages, the ISIS militants have occupied all villages — except Al Qosh. As a matter of fact, ISIS approached the town, but didn’t occupy it yet. At present, Al Qosh is the demarcation line between the Peshmerga (Kurdish fighters) and ISIS. From this eparchy, 5,000 Chaldean families left for Kurdistan.

Together with the estimated 5,000 families who fled Mosul earlier this summer, some 23,000 Iraqi Christian families, about 120,000 people — have fled the wave of violence on the Nineveh Plain, a cradle of Christianity in Mesopotamia.

Given the large number of refugees and their great needs, our partners have urged us to help them secure up to three months’ supply of infant formula and regular milk for children, which is not included in the food packages distributed by international aid organizations thus far.

Basic medical care is also desperately needed: A team of doctors, who are volunteering their work in coordination with the local church, are pleading for basic medical equipment.

Please help us to help our brothers and sisters in need, and provide them with the basic necessities that can keep them alive.

Visit this page to learn how.



Tags: Iraq Iraqi Christians Iraqi Refugees Relief Chaldean Church

13 August 2014
Elias D. Mallon, S.A., Ph.D.




Children flee violence from forces loyal to the Islamic State (ISIS) in Sinjar, Iraq, on 10 August.
(photo: CNS/Rodi Said, Reuters)


Faced with the unrelenting reports about the sufferings of Christians and other minorities in Iraq and Syria, even Christians who are friendly toward Muslims can be perplexed and ask, “Why aren’t Muslims speaking out against these atrocities?” The answer is: Muslims have been speaking out in the strongest terms, condemning the crimes against humanity committed by ISIS (or, as it is increasingly called, IS) and others in the name of Islam.

So, why do we not hear more of this?

The first reason is because Islam is not a structurally centralized religion. Unlike, for example, Catholicism, there is no one person or institution that can speak with authority for all Sunnis or even all Shiites — to say nothing of speaking for all Muslims around the world.

The second reason is that there is a huge number of newspapers in Muslim countries throughout the world. Many, if not most, of these newspapers appear in languages unfamiliar to people in the West. Sometimes, it is not a question of Muslims speaking out, but of others just not hearing. Often, the “not hearing” happens because people do not have access to sources or just do not speak the same language. But the voices are out there. And an important media monitoring group has turned up the volume, to make sure more hear them.

MEMRI (The Middle East Media Research Institute), which could never be accused of being apologetic to Islam or Muslims, has just published a “Special Dispatch,” in which it gives a platform to several significant editorials written by Muslims in important Middle Eastern newspapers — condemning the atrocities taking place in Syria and Iraq in no uncertain terms.

Some highlights:

In a scathing July 24, 2014 editorial on the issue, the London-based Qatari daily Al-Quds Al-Arabi stated that the targeting in Mosul of Christians, who have been part of the history and culture of Iraq for centuries, is the most extensive ethnic cleansing of modern times, and a black mark upon the reputation of Islam and the Muslims. The paper went on to call on moderate Muslims to condemn these terrible actions of the “cancerous” and “terrorist” IS, lest they become complicit in a crime against humanity. It also urged them to denounce extremist fatwas, such as the one by Sudanese cleric Muhammad Al-Jazouli, who cited a hadith permitting the killing of “infidel” men, women and children. The paper mentioned that this fatwa was widely published by MEMRI (view this clip on MEMRI TV here). It should be noted that, although the newspaper called this hadith “false” and “unreliable,” it actually appears in the Abu Dawud collection and is considered authentic.

Egyptian sociologist and human rights activist Sa’d Al-Din Ibrahim wrote in his weekly column for the Egyptian daily Al-Masri Al-Yawm that the IS’s barbaric, racist and murderous treatment of Christians, unprecedented in the history of the Arab East, is reminiscent of the Nazis and Tatars, and does great harm to Islam. He called upon the Arab League to condemn the IS’s actions.

Columnist Ahmad Al-Sarraf used a scathingly sarcastic tone to express his outrage. In his column in the Kuwaiti daily Al-Qabas, he told the Christians to leave the Arab lands, because the Arabs no longer have any use for progress, civilization, tolerance or coexistence, but only for backwardness, fanaticism and violence.

Read more at the MEMRI link. There are many more critical voices out there in the Arab world. They deserve to be heard.



Tags: Syria Iraq Violence against Christians Muslim Islam

13 August 2014
CNEWA Staff




A man and three children flee violence from forces loyal to the Islamic State in Sinjar, Iraq, on 10 August. (photo: CNS/Rodi Said, Reuters)

The website Aleteia has posted a comprehensive primer on the Islamic State, featuring important insight and context from — among others — CNEWA’s Elias D. Mallon, S.A., Ph.D:

ISIS or ISIL? Islamic State or Caliphate?

The bunch that’s wreaking havoc across parts of Syria and Iraq has not only caused death and destruction, they’ve caused a lot of confusion as well.

In an attempt to clear up some of that, Aleteia reached out to members of its Board of Experts and others in order to compile this primer on the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, to use one of its several names. We are grateful for the assistance of Father Elias D. Mallon, external Affairs Officer of the New York-based Catholic Near East Welfare Association; Jesuit Father Mitch Pacwa of EWTN, and William Kilpatrick, author of Christianity, Islam and Atheism: The Struggle for The Soul of The West.

1. What or who is ISIS? How did it come to be?

ISIS consists of Sunni extremists, recruited from all over the Arab-speaking world and perhaps beyond. Its origins are connected with Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a notorious terrorist born in Jordan.

“He ultimately went to Afghanistan as a jihadi in the late 1980’s,” Father Mallon says. “He founded the Organization for Tawhid (i.e. proclaiming the unity of God) and Jihad and ultimately in 2004 brought his organization under the leadership of al-Qaeda, where he declared total war on Shi’ites.”

“The Islamic State is the group that during the Iraq War was often referred to as ‘Al-Qaeda in Iraq,’ ” says an info sheet from the Archdiocese of Toronto. “The group claims it is an independent state with claims to Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon. It was established in the early years of the Iraq War. … The group has targeted military and governments of Iraq and Syria, but has also claimed responsibility for attacks that have killed thousands of Iraqi civilians. According to a study compiled by U.S. intelligence agencies, the Islamic State has plans to seize power and turn the country into a fundamentalist Islamic state.”

Al-Zarqawi was killed by an American bomb in 2006.

“It appears that ISIS is an offshoot or development of al-Zarqawi’s al-Qaeda in Iraq,” says Father Mallon. “However, al-Qaeda has repudiated ISIS for being too indiscriminately violent and, hence, risking the loss of popular support.”

“As an offshoot from al-Qaeda, ISIS follows the theology of the Wahabi sect of Sunni Islam, which began in eastern Arabia in the 1740’s,” says Father Pacwa. “Their passion is the oneness of God and the elimination of all shirk, or association of anyone or anything with God. The early Wahabis were disgusted by the honors shown to the Prophet Muhammad at his tomb in Medina, so they completely destroyed it. … Their catechesis in Arabia emphasized the absolute oneness of God and summoned all Muslims to join them in enforcing this doctrine, or die.”

ISIS is now led by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who declared himself “Caliph” on June 29. If you find ISIS’s constant name changes disconcerting, you’ll feel the same way about Al-Baghdadi. Originally called Ibrahim Awwad Ibrahim Ali al-Badri al-Samarra’i, al-Baghdadi took his nom de guerre after the name of the first Caliph, Abu Bakr.

“Recently he has started calling himself Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi al Husseini al-Qurayshi, the last two names being attempts to link his lineage with that of the Prophet and his tribe the Quraysh,” Father Mallon says. “If he is really descended from the Prophet, one would think that it would have been obvious in his name all along. Most recently, he is using The Commander of the Faithful Caliph Ibrahim, using the traditional and oldest title of the Caliph—Commander of the Faithful.”

2. Why do they exist?

Father Mallon outlines two reasons why ISIS exists:

Ideological: to spread Islam and Islamic rule across the lands of the classical Abassid Caliphate and further even into the Iberian Peninsula. As such, ISIS shows little understanding of the very checkered history of the Caliphate. In this, ISIS tends to be a type of romantic movement but an incredibly brutal one.

Practical: Many Sunnis in Iraq (and Syria) feel disenfranchised by either the Alawite rule of Bashar al-Assad in Damascus or the Shi’ite rule of Nouri al-Maliki in Baghdad. I think many Sunnis look upon ISIS as the only effective opposition to, especially, the regime in Baghdad. I am not sure but I suspect that the loyalty does not go much deeper.

3. What is their aim? How likely are they to be able to accomplish it?

Their aim to re-establish the Caliphate and extend Islamic religious, political and military hegemony as far as they can, says Father Mallon. “To accomplish this they are prepared to violate traditional principles of Islamic warfare.”

4. Is this a global movement?

Yes and no, says Father Mallon. “It is global in that is appeals to a broad audience of Muslims who share the romantic idea of a Caliphate in which Muslims rule over everyone. It is not a global movement in that it is probably not sustainable in a number of ways. Not the least, opposition would come from an increasing desire for democracy in many Muslim countries. Democracy is the antithesis of the historically autocratic Caliphates. In addition, Shi’ites are in principle opposed to a Sunni Caliphate ruling over them.”

He adds: “Although ISIS uses the most brutal and savage methods, it would be a serious mistake to think of it as a primitive group. It has shown itself disturbingly sophisticated in its use of mass communications and social media. There are reports of a store in Istanbul and a website on which one can purchase t-shirts with the ISIS logo as well as the head band often seen on the foreheads of ISIS combatants as well as access ISIS propaganda.

“The New York Times estimates that ISIS is the wealthiest terrorist group in the world, having access to hundreds of millions of dollars,” Father Mallon says. “Most, if not all, ISIS’s wealth comes from plundered cities, banks and individuals. It seems it has carefully avoided becoming dependent on outside sources of financing which could easily be cut off.”

Check out the Aleteia website for much more.



Tags: Syria Iraq Refugees Violence against Christians Iraqi Christians

12 August 2014
Michel Constantin




An Iraqi Christian refugee holds a 12-day-old baby in Ain Kawa, Iraq, on 7 August. (photo: CNS/Sahar Mansour)

The streets of Ain Kawa, Erbil’s Christian neighborhood, are filled with Christian families, children, elderly and youth staying in the halls and backyards of the churches and in empty schools and convents. Prior to the advance of ISIS fighters in June, Ain Kawa counted some 30,000 people, mostly Christians. It has now become a refuge to around 130,000 displaced Christians from Mosul, Qaraqosh and other neighboring villages.

Ned Colt, UNHCR Public Information Officer in Erbil, said: “The constant movement of displaced people is creating an extreme situation for aid agencies which are trying to keep up. We are distributing aid, but due to people constantly moving we are sometimes distributing multiple times to the same people, and many of those people have no means of carrying things. It is difficult to get accurate figures of how many people are on the move, but we say at least 1.2 million.”

It is not just Christians fleeing the militants, but many other Iraqis — including Yazidis, Shabaks (Shiite Kurds) and moderate Muslims, considered heretics — he added.

Father Anis Hanna explained in detail how life has now changed for the different minorities who once lived in peace for centuries under the reign of Islam in Iraq and Syria. In July, ISIS declared from different mosques in Mosul that, starting on 28 July 2014, new laws and rules would be applied to everyone living in the territories under the Islamic State. They also declared that after this date, the Islamic State’s forces will purify the Nineveh Plain and control all Christian villages.

The new Islamic laws consist of the following:

  • It is forbidden for any citizens (men, women and children) to wear Western-style clothes; all men should wear Afghan-style clothing and all women should be veiled from their heads to their toes

  • All men should have a long beard and should shave their heads and mustaches

  • All women are not allowed to work outside their homes and they are not allowed to go outside home to the market or elsewhere if they are not accompanied by a male member of the family

  • All liquor stores, barber and cosmetic shops were shut down and are not allowed to operate

  • The local TV and radio station are not allowed to broadcast any kind of entertainment and cultural or artistic programs; only religious songs and programs are allowed

  • All regular courts in the city were suspended and replaced by Islamic courts

  • All families are being forced to give their daughters as wives to the militants against the will of the parents and the young girls.

The director of a human rights organization in Iraqi Kurdistan working in Erbil, Dhyaa Boutros, told me that the estimated number of Christian refugees is around 130,000. Some 55,000 of them have no shelter and found refuge in settlements in the open air or inside the church halls and empty schools in Erbil. The rest have managed to stay either with relatives in Erbil and Duhoc or rented small apartments in the city.

The refugees in settlements are estimated at around 10,000 families — sleeping 30 to 40 in a room in temperatures that rise up to 45 degrees Celsius [about 113 degrees Farenheit] during the day. They basically need everything. The first obvious needs are shelter, water, food, security and other basic needs to save lives. Local parishes — priests, sisters and volunteers — are doing their best to respond to need.

A newly displaced person said to Mr. Boutros: “The pope has asked the Christians to pray and be patient. I’ve been displaced twice. What prayers shall I say now?”

Ain Kawa’s St. Joseph Church has suddenly become a homeless shelter, with clothes drying in the sun and pale blue U.N.-donated blankets hanging from trees. People everywhere are confused. Kids are eating crumbly stale bread; worried mothers are wiping their children’s faces or fanning them in the heat. There are too many thin mattresses stretched on the ground, too many bags stacked up with small children crouched nearby in the small scrap of shade provided.

The confusion, the overwhelming need and the huge number of refugees makes all efforts look insufficient and inefficient.

***

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Tags: Iraq Iraqi Christians Iraqi Refugees Yazidi Shiite





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