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Common Concern for Christians in the Middle East

This week over 60 MPs and peers wrote to the Prime Minister to ask that the crimes against minorities in Syria should be treated as genocide. That letter echoed another warning by Prince Charles that Christian communities in the Middle East were ‘being targeted like never before by fanatical Islamist militants intent on dividing communities that had lived together for centuries’. In America, two Rabbis from the Simon Wiesenthal Center, a leading Jewish Human Rights NGO have now added their voice to the policy discussion, calling in the Wall Street Journal for the State Department to admit these refugees to the US.

The Middle East refugee crisis took on a new dimension this winter after terrorist attacks in Paris and California: not only did they underline the need for effective vetting of Middle East refugees, but they have also led many to ask the question: who should get priority?

In Iraq and Syria the Christian minorities have been suffering longer than other groups. Not only have their lives long been threatened by some Muslim groups as well as Islamic State, but they have been targeted for extinction. Christians, like ethnic Kurds and Yazidis, are the focus for ethnic cleansing by Islamic State. Christian Churches have been burned, priests arrested, and Christians have been tortured, raped and even crucified. There is also evidence of forcible conversion to Islam. We have seen the destruction of ancient Christian communities, such as that of Mosul, in Iraq, where only a decade ago there were 35,000 Christians, after the Islamic State’s ultimatum to convert to Islam or be executed. From Syria too, the evidence has been that entire villages have been cleared of their Christian inhabitants.

These Christians are the region’s true homeless: even if the region returns to peace, there is every likelihood that larger ethnic groups will be in power, with no place for Christians among hostile Muslim populations. The horrific animosity to Christians was evident when Italian police discovered that 12 Christians attempting to flee from Libya were thrown overboard by Muslim fellow passengers and drowned. And in the Middle East itself, many Christian refugees don’t dare to enter the camps for fear of their lives.

These camps are not only be dangerous for Christians; they are part of a system which can disadvantage Christians in other ways. For instance, the US State Department takes refugees from lists prepared by the Office of the UN High Commission on refugees, which oversees the camps. In Britain too, according to George Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, a similar protocol has led to discrimination against the Christian communities ‘most victimised by the inhuman butchers of the so-called Islamic State. Christians are not to be found in the UN camps, because they have been attacked and targeted by Islamists and driven out of them.’

This week dozens of UK parliamentarians warned Britain’s prime minister about the atrocities against minorities in Syria and asked that such crimes be treated as genocide. Here on this side of the Atlantic, we ask that America should amend its policy to include these refugees at the top of the list.

As rabbis we believe that the immediate focus in US policy should be to give a safe haven to the Christians of the Middle East. Christians are not only targeted for extinction, they have nowhere else to go.

This Blog is based on an article by Rabbis Cooper and Adlerstein in The Wall Street Journal

Rabbi Abraham Cooper

Rabbi Abraham Cooper is Associate Dean and Director Global Social Action Agenda of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre, a leading Jewish human rights organisation.

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