A Visit to the Middle East Highlights the Dysfunction of the US System and the Abandonment of Christian Refugees
I learned the step-by-step of buying a fake Syrian passport from my burly and bearded taxi driver, George, while jammed in Beirut traffic on Thanksgiving.
George, age 26, is from Lebanon’s agricultural heartland, the Beqaa Valley, the only boy of six children. He’s no refugee; he’s never left his homeland.
But the Beqaa Valley, bordering Syria, has taken a heavy economic hit from Lebanon’s generosity: Over 1.5 million “visitors” are stuffed into a country half the size of New Jersey.
To make more money, George decided to take the trip north to Turkey, cross the Aegean Sea to Greece, and get to Germany—as a Syrian refugee. (Last summer, the way was cleared for this transit by an unusual alliance: the Turkish Islamic government and an anti-European leftist government in Greece.)
“I sent my passport photo via “What’s App” to a guy in Damascus and $400 USD by DHL. A week later, DHL delivered my Syrian passport,” explained George proudly, who said some 10,000 Lebanese made it to Germany with “Syrian” documents.
Here’s the amusing part: George is Catholic. He’s even got a wooden rosary on his rearview mirror.
He’s part of Lebanon’s largest Christian community, the Maronites, an Eastern-rite Catholic Church in full communion with Rome, led by Cardinal Bechara Boutros al-Rahi, Patriarch of Antioch and All the East.
George decided not to use his new passport after his mother saw people drowning, and begged him to stay home, but his story demonstrates the refugee crisis is rife with corruption. Besides the existence of bribable Syrian bureaucrats, extremists appear to control passport printing facilities.
Worse, a visit to Lebanon and Jordan reveals how US policy prevents us from doing more to protect real Christian refugees threatened by genocide, despite the fact that American decisions endangered them in the first place.
Most Syrian refugees living in Lebanon occupy small apartments in poor neighborhoods, often squeezing 10 or 12 people in a two room space. (Photo credit: Victor Gaetan)
Have no doubt, the extremists known regionally as Daesh (an Arabic acronym with the connotation of trampling or crushing; Islamic State, ISIS, and ISIL, all give credibility to sociopathic outlaws) target Christians and other religious minorities for total elimination—genocide by definition.
Considering the 1915-17 Armenian genocide when some 2.5 million Christians were massacred in today’s Turkey, we’re witnessing the continuation of a 100-year strategy to purge the Middle East of Christianity by some extremists.
Archbishop Jean-Clement Jeanbart of Aleppo, Syria estimates 1,000 Christians in the city have been kidnapped, beheaded, and murdered. Of 160,000 Christians in Aleppo before the war, there are fewer than 100,000 today.
Because the stakes are existential, many clerics and believers are doing everything in their power to stay.
Although his house was bombed and car was ambushed in two attacks on his life, Archbishop Jeanbart won’t leave: “I would sacrifice my own life to be in Syria. It is the first church in the world. I do what I can to encourage people to stay, to remain, to persevere. This is my struggle,” the Melkite Catholic leader told the British Daily Express.
So, Western Catholics should contribute to the excellent programs helping Christians who chose to stay in the Middle East. In Lebanon, most Christian refugees I met were Syrians still hoping to return home.
Displaced Christians live in poor neighborhoods as so-called urban refugees mainly because, they say, extremists are in the camps, where gangs run rackets and Christian girls are especially unsafe.
Displaced Iraqi Christians, terrorized by Daesh in the summer of 2014, are generally more eager than Syrian Christians to immigrate. They’ve lost hope Christians can survive in Iraq. I met people with relatives in the U.S. and job prospects, becoming impoverished as they run through life savings, waiting for the sluggish UN to process their paperwork.
As in Beirut, Christian refugees in Amman refuse to stay in camps managed by the United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR) for personal security and to live closer to faith communities.
So, Christian refugees are not priorities to the UN because they avoid dangerous UN camps.
That means, instead of helping vulnerable Christians targeted for genocide, U.S. policies actually discriminate against them by quietly relinquishing decision-making to the United Nations.
A different approach used in Canada promotes what Catholic social teaching calls subsidiarity—local engagement and attention to the individual in community.
Canada’s immigration law allows churches, schools, even five approved individuals, to sponsor a refugee. Sponsors help support a refugee for at least a year.
The Archdiocese of Toronto, one of country’s biggest facilitators of resettlement, recently sent a team to Amman to interview refugees and identify the most vulnerable—including Christian families—and those most likely to thrive in Canada.
Archdiocese officials are quick to explain they don’t discriminate against Muslims, but the system allows them to make sure Christians are included.
This local engagement and refusal to rely exclusively on the UN allows Christians to gain passage to Canada when they are virtually blocked from the US.
By eliminating local involvement, and empowering the UN, the US has helped create a dysfunctional system—in complete disregard to American community traditions!