Iraqi Christians Stranded in Jordan
October 24th, 2007
By: Kenneth R. Timmerman Article
The United States embassy in Jordan is failing to process immigrant visas for Iraqi translators and others who worked for coalition forces in Iraq, despite a pledge by President Bush to expedite their relocation to the United States, Newsmax has learned from interviews with refugees, aid workers, and U.S. diplomats in Jordan.
U.S. diplomats at the vast, fortress-like embassy complex in Amman told Newsmax that the bottleneck was not their fault but was the result of a difficult ramping-up process at the local office of the United National High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), which was hired by the State Department to conduct the initial screening of potential refugees to determine who qualifies for relocation to the United States.
“We have processed everyone that UNHCR has identified as a potential asylum seeker,” a senior U.S. diplomat said.
Since President Bush pledged earlier this year to increase the number of Iraqis admitted to the United States as political refugees by 10-fold, the embassy has processed 2,000 asylum applications, the diplomat said. He acknowledged, however, that most of those individuals “have not left yet” and were still in Amman.
An additional 400 special cases — translators and former U.S. embassy employees who have fled Iraq after death threats and assassination attempts — have also been processed in Amman, the diplomat and senior aides said.
But when confronted with cases of Iraqis who said that they had been waiting for nine months just to see an embassy case worker, the U.S. officials remarked that the Iraqis were wrong to attempt to contact the embassy directly.
“We don’t do refugee interviews,” a consular official of Arab descent said.
Living in Fear
Interviews with nearly a hundred Iraqi Christian refugees, officials at local churches, and international aid workers revealed a population huddling in misery, unable to work because of Jordanian government restrictions, and fearful of being deported back to Iraq.
“Iraqi Christians have suffered violence almost to a person,” said Father Keith Roderick, the Washington representative of Christian Solidarity International and Canon for Persecuted Christians.
Roderick was in Amman last week with other Christian leaders on a fact-finding mission to understand why so many Iraqi Christian refugees were still stranded in Jordan, despite a public commitment by the president to expedite the relocation of thousands of them to the United States.
“These individuals and families have been persecuted because of their Christian background, and they are living as a minority in Jordan without any protection,” Father Roderick told Newsmax. “The United States has a moral obligation to help those who are most vulnerable and defenseless as a result of the U.S. invasion.”
Refugees say that whenever they tried to approach the U.S. embassy complex in Amman, they were chased away by private Jordanian security guards, apparently on instructions from the embassy.
If they were lucky, the guards told them to go to the local UNHCR office in Amman, where they could register as displaced persons seeking relocation abroad because of persecution in Iraq.
Once at the UNHCR, however, many Christians said they were “treated like dogs” by Muslim case workers, who refused to look at their documents once it became apparent that they were Christians.
“These people are intimidated because they are here illegally,” said William J. Murray, who heads the conservative Religious Freedom Coalition in Washington, D.C. “They should not have a security guard with a high school education as their point of public contact at the U..S. embassy.”
Here in Amman, the churches have taken over many of the functions of government for the Iraq exiles. They dispense social services, conduct English, computer, and bible study classes for children in “informal” schools, and become their advocates when dealing with the authorities.
If you want to find Iraqi Christian refugees in Amman, you go to the churches. And yet, when asked by Newsmax whether they had been visiting churches, the U.S. embassy official in charge of aid work demurred. “That’s not my job,” he said.
Top church leaders in the Assyrian, Chaldean, and evangelical communities confirmed that they had never received a visit from anyone from the U.S. embassy since the liberation of Iraq in 2003.
“The embassy is not effectively engaging with a population that is displaced as a result of our actions, and that is shameful,” former South Carolina Gov. David Beasely, who led the delegation of U.S. Christian groups to Amman, told Newsmax.
Iraqis who worked for coalition forces or for U.S. contractors in Iraq are supposed to received expedited treatment because they continue to be at risk from Islamic death squads, even in Amman.
One Iraqi Christian refugee, Jalal, giving only his first name due to fears of reprisal, told a harrowing story of being tracked by Islamic militants to Amman. He had worked for 18 months with the coalition to rebuild local governments,
One week after arriving in Amman, Islamists obtained his brand-new Jordanian cellphone number and left a message that they would “get” him and his family, no matter where they went.
As a humanitarian gesture, President Bush instructed the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security to give such individuals “direct access” to U.S. officials to screen their asylum applications, via the International Office of Migration (IOM).
But in practice, the refugees continue to be rebuffed by Muslim United Nations aid workers who decline to inform them of the new program, and by a callous, distant U.S. embassy staff.
“IOM told me to fax or e-mail my documents,” Jalal told Newsmax. “One week later, they said I was not qualified. They said that they preferred interpreters, not just anyone who had worked for the coalition.”
When asked whether he had ever spoken to an American official about his case, Jalal threw up his hands in despair. “I don’t dare go to the U.S. embassy,” he said. “Nobody is allowed even to cross the road to approach the embassy,” because of the private security guards.
Other refugees said that UNHCR had simply lost their files, requiring them to resubmit documents two and three years after the initial contact with the U.N. refugee agency, with no assurance they wouldn’t be “lost” again.
Samir Dunha Audish, 51, had two daughters who worked for a U.S. contractor. The pair were murdered on their way home from work near the Baghdad airport during a terrorist ambush on Aug. 18, 2004.
Audish’s son, who also worked for the coalition, was supposed to have been in the car with his sisters, but had taken the day off by chance. When the son went to the morgue to reclaim his sister’s bodies, he was chased by insurgents who shot at his car. “He had to flee by running house to house,” Audish said.
Audish fled Iraq on Oct. 17, 2005, after militiamen from the Shiite Mahdi army of Muqtada al-Sadr came to his home and ordered him to leave within hours or be killed. “I went four times to the U.S. embassy in Amman, but the guards in the reception area kicked me out,” he said.
Christians Forced to Study Islam
Father Raymond Moussalli is Vicar at the Chaldean patriarchy in Amman. He serves a community of 10,000 Iraqi Christians, and runs a vibrant “informal” school to teach children English and Aramaic, the language of Christ that is still used in the Chaldean liturgy.
King Abdallah II of Jordan issued a royal decree this year allowing Iraqi children access to Jordanian public schools for the first time, but many Christian children interviewed here and at an Assyrian church said they preferred to study in church schools, because teachers forced Christian children in the government schools to attend Islamic education classes.
Two Jordanian government ministers told the U.S. delegation that compelling the students to study Islam runs counter to Jordanian government policy, but couldn’t rule out actions taken by “individual” teachers.
Moussalli told Newsmax and the U.S. fact-finding mission that there was “no coordination” between the international aid community and the churches, and that when they met with the UNHCR, they were told to “stop complaining.”
“I can reach the people who are in need,” Moussalli said. “I know who they are. I pastor to them every day. But the UNHCR and the others are not interesting in partnering with the churches.”
Everywhere Gov. Beasely and his small fact-finding team went, they were besieged by Iraqis who waved the temporary documents issued to them as asylum-seekers by the UNHCR.
The refugees literally begged for help, and eagerly showed letters from U.S. military officers and certificates of employment from U.S. contractors in Baghdad as proof that they had worked for the coalition, and thus were qualified to immigrate to the United States under the new policy set forth by President Bush.
Nazarit Krikor, an 49-year old Armenian whose wife had worked as a translator for the U.S. military in Baghdad, fled to Jordan in 2004 after terrorists gunned down his wife, two other women, and their driver in Baghdad’s Saddoun square on June 7, 2004.
“I went to the UNHCR here in Amman, but they wouldn’t listen to my story,” he said. He has been waiting for over three years to get an appointment with a U.S. embassy officer.
Emad Albert Yousif, 53, fled Iraq after his son was brutally murdered by Islamist terrorists, who rammed his car on his way to work on July 4, 2006 and fired more than 120 bullets into his body. The gunfire was so intense it severed his limbs, Mr. Yousif said.
That Iraqi refugees were willing to share painful memories such as these was a sign of their desperation. “This is an unmitigated disaster,” said Beasely, after a mob scene with a group of 50 refugees at the Assyrian Orthodox church in Amman.
”This is embarassing. It’s humiliating. Why should we be rattling cages to get the U.S. embassy to do its job?” he told Newsmax.
Murray was incensed when he asked for a show of hands and learned that 48 of the 50 refugees had relatives in the United States who were U.S. citizens.
After several phone calls to the chief of staff of a U.S. senator in Washington, Murray learned that these Iraqis should never have been told to go to the UNHCR in the first place, because they qualified automatically for immigration to the United States under normal family reunification procedures.
“The U.S. embassy is telling us things that just aren’t true,” he said, exasperated.