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Let’s Help Yazidi and Christian Refugees

International attention across the western world has highlighted the plight of Christians and Yazidis in Syria and Iraq targeted by ISIS. In the US, John Kerry, the Secretary of State, told a news conference that this was nothing less than genocide by ISIS against groups in areas under its control. In Britain, a number of MPs signed an early day motion condemning the treatment of Christians and other minorities by ISIS including ‘beheadings, crucifixions, shootings, burnings, other murders, torture, rape and extensive violence’ as genocide. The European Parliament too has passed a unanimous motion of condemnation.

Christians and Yazidis have long been targeted by Muslim groups – not only ISIS – for ethnic cleansing. Churches have been burned, priests arrested. In the worst cases, Christians have been tortured, raped and even crucified.

Mosul, which was home to a Christian population of 35,000 a decade ago, is now empty of Christians after an ISIS ultimatum that they either convert to Islam or be executed.

In Syria, Gregoios III Laham, the Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarch of the Church of Antioch wrote that ‘entire villages…have been cleared of their Christian inhabitants’. Unlike others, Middle East Christians have nowhere else to go, even if stability miraculously returns to the region. As a result of turmoil beyond their control, these Christians are the region’s ultimate homeless.

Should some sort of peace ever return, the likelihood is that maps will be redrawn, carving up the pie between larger ethnic groups. There could be no place for Christians or Yazidis among hostile Muslim populations. The animosity towards Christians in the Middle East is illustrated by a horrific incident off the coast of Italy.

Even in the face of the pictures of barbarism and brutality that the world has witnessed, that incident stands out for expressing the sheer hatred of Christians, even among people who themselves have suffered. Last April, twelve Christian refugees who were attempting to cross the sea to Europe were thrown overboard by Muslim migrants onboard and drowned.

Actions must now follow the words of John Kerry. We therefore propose practical strategies to protect Christians and other minorities. Without doubt, the current policy of degrading ISIS – not destroying the terrorists – will come too late for untold additional victims of their unspeakable barbarism. Yet there is still much the US, Britain and Europe could do to protect many Christians and other minorities against persecution.

  • Put Yazidis and Christians from the region at the front of the immigration line to the U.S.
  • A new coalition of the willing could be formed with the aim of destroying the genocidal ‘Caliphate’, even without risking a protracted ground war.
  • This coalition could begin by creating safety zones for embattled minorities in Syria and Iraq. In a region strewn with desperate people, their situation is the most desperate.


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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