Catholic archbishops from Iraq and Syria said Tuesday that while they hope to help their people stay in the Middle East, they also believe those trying to leave are being unjustly discriminated against when applying for United States visas.
According to federal data, since October 2014, 906 Muslim refugees from Syria were granted U.S. visas, while only 28 of Syria’s estimated 700,000 displaced Christians were given the same. Even when accounting for population percentages (Christians account for 10 percent of the religious makeup of Syria), the numbers of visas granted seems widely disproportional.
Chaldean Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil and Melkite Archbishop Jean-Clement Jeanbart of Aleppo spoke at an Aug. 4 press conference at the Knights of Columbus 2015 Convention in Philadelphia about the situation for Christians in the Middle East.
They said that while they do not believe the discrimination against giving Christians visas goes all the way to the top of America’s administration, their people have noticed the injustice.
“Our people are asking these questions: how come we apply for the American visa and are denied?” Archbishop Warda said.
“This is a clear case of persecution,” he added.
“They’re being denied visas while others who have participated (in the violence) or at least were silent can go.”
Ideally, Archbishops Warda and Jeanbart would like their people to stay and help rebuild the Christian populations in the Middle East, where Christians have lived since the first decades after Jesus’ death. However, they also know they cannot ask people to stay in the dangerous conditions when they choose to leave.
“We would like our people to stay, we would like (that), but emigration is a personal decision; we cannot encourage, but we cannot stop it,” Archbishop Warda said.
Iraq alone has seen a massive emigration of Christians. The Christian population has plummeted to 300,000, down from about 1.5 million before the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of the country. Within the last year, tens of thousands of Christians in Mosul and Bakhdida were forced to flee, pay exorbitant fines, or die at the hands of the Islamic State. Many have left the country, while the remaining Christians relocated to Erbil, in Iraqi Kurdistan.
SOURCE: Mary Rezac