This article was originally published by The Chaldean News http://www.chaldeannews.com/obama-appointee-talks-about-the-genocide/
On Monday, March 14, the House of Representatives unanimously passed a resolution labeling the ISIS atrocities against Christian groups in Syria and Iraq “genocide.” Just a few days later, Congressman Dave Trott of Michigan and Knox Thames, appointed by President Obama as the first special adviser for religious minorities in the Near East and South/Central Asia, flew in from Washington to meet with members of the Chaldean Community Foundation.
The next steps for Iraqi Christians were addressed at the March 18 meeting in Sterling Heights.
“Chaldeans are like the Native American people of Iraq and Syria,” said Martin Manna, president of the Chaldean American Chamber of Commerce. “ISIS is not their biggest enemy. The Iraqi government is no better than ISIS and factors like property confiscation and intimidation have made us come to the reality that our people can’t live a peaceful existence with their Arab neighbors.”
Manna listed the many problems that Christians face inside and outside of Iraq, and asked, “What is the long-term solution?”
“There is a crisis for religious minorities in the Middle East, even for Muslims who want to challenge the status quo,” said Thames. “The U.S. has done a lot, is doing more than anyone else, but we need to do more. We can’t do it alone and we shouldn’t do it alone.”
Thames noted that the United States has been providing humanitarian assistance to Syrians and Iraqis, including to refugees and displaced populations, since the start of the crisis. The U.S. is also supporting resettlement as an important tool of protection for those who cannot return home or locally integrate, he said. Many of the refugees who have been resettled, or who are currently under consideration, are Christians, Yazidis and other minorities.
“But the policies have not worked so far,” said Manna. “We’ve seen a dramatic decrease in 2016 with the number of Christians coming here.”
Ismat Karmo, chairman of Nineveh Council of America, and Eman Jajonie-Daman, magistrate at the 46th District Court, said many refugees have complained that during their interviews, Muslim UN employees wrote incorrect answers that conflicted with their statements, or interpreters from Somalia or Sudan twisted or misinterpreted their words. As a result, they were denied refugee status based on misrepresentation. Many want to appeal, but in Muslim countries, how can Christians who claim that they’re discriminated against by Muslims win?
“People say, ‘Well, Iraq is a sovereign country,’” said Manna. “But we helped destroy it so we have to help fix it. Either help the Christians stay in Iraq or please help them get out.”
“We’re working on both,” said Thames and explained the ways the U.S. is doing so:
By pressuring governments to reform, so that restrictive law and policies are changed and members of religious minorities are able to practice their faith freely and peacefully.
By working to create and sustain the conditions under which religious minorities can remain in their ancestral homeland. For example, through coordinated airstrikes by the Counter-ISIL Coalition, the United States has acted to protect minority groups in imminent danger in Iraq and Syria.
By protecting everything from old manuscripts to churches.
“When cultural and religious heritages are removed to erase any history that they were there, people don’t want to stay in that land anymore,” he said. “In October, I visited with refugees in Lebanon and asked them, ‘Why did you come here?’ They told me that they have given up on Iraq.”
Salam, a 33-year-old man who has been in the U.S. for a year, was brought into the meeting to share his story of being detained for seven days by the mujahedeen and held for $15,000 ransom. As he waited for his family to raise the money, he, along with other hostages, was tortured until his wife and brother came up with $10,000. Because it was not the full amount requested, he had to endure further punishment. He sat on a chair while a religious man with a machete came next to him, prayed, read a verse from the Quran, and said that by Sharia Law, they had the right to cut off his left ear. He then cut his ear.
Salam lost consciousness and later woke up in the hospital. The mujahedeen had thrown him in the garbage and called his family to pick him up from there.
“This is heart wrenching,” said Thames. “I’m happy we’ve given him refuge here.”
“This is not a unique story,” said Jajonie-Daman. “It’s the norm. I once represented a kid whose face and body is so cut up, he looks like a map.”
“Under UN convention, these cases are hearsay until the person journeys to another country and registers his refugee status with the field office,” said Wendy Acho, director of Strategic Initiatives at the CCF. “But you should be able to get into the system from credible fear. The person shouldn’t have to illegally transport themselves to another country and endure all sorts of hardships.”
A suggestion was made to create a UN office in Iraq so that, at the least, people would not have to leave the country to come to the U.S., but could come directly from Iraq. Another idea was to hold a conference in Washington, where all political party representatives and religious leaders from Iraq could come to the table and discuss these issues.
“Seeing the U.S. government is serious about helping them would boost their morale,” said Karmo.
Thames took notes of all the recommendations and said he was looking forward to working with his new colleagues to address these challenges. But he reminded everyone that there’s no magic or silver bullet.
“Changes happen through small steps,” he said, “and through the works of such organizations as CCF and others.”