The ABC 20/20 documentary graphically portrayed how these Iraqi Christians threatened with genocide fled from their millennia old community of Qaragosh, Iraq, after a mortar attack by ISIS. The Christian community they fled was one of the oldest in the Middle East and was violently desecrated by ISIS. They were told by rampaging ISIS jihadis they had three choices; to flee, remain as virtual slaves or be killed. They were among the more than 170,000 internally displaced Christians in Iraqi Kurdistan threatened by barbaric apocalyptic ISIS less than 30 miles away.
The Qaragosh Christian community fled and became locked in a virtually immoveable massive traffic jam. They abandoned their vehicles fled on foot to Erbil. There they found sanctuary in the courtyard of Mar Elia Chaldean Catholic Church presided over by resourceful Father Douglas Bazi. At first housed in tents, the 560 refugees were subsequently housed in caravans, with space heaters, limited sanitary facilities and communal kitchens. They were Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) who dared not enter UN High Commission for Refugees reception centers in Kurdistan, that already house 1.8 million largely Muslim refugees, for fear of retaliation. They lived in fear of any future as they lack residency.
That is when a remarkable alliance came to their aid. The ABC 20/20 documentary, narrated by Elizabeth Vargas, outlined who were prime actors:
Glenn Beck‘s charity, Mercury One’s Nazarene Fund, raised more than $12 million for the evacuation and resettlement efforts of the refugees. Contracted by the Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom, former U.S. counter-terrorism officers Joseph and Michele Assad have spent the past four months forging a close partnership with Father Douglas Bazi at Mar Elia. The Assads were managing the risky plan of getting the refugees out of Iraq and finding a country that would grant them asylum so they can start their lives over.
Slovakia, a predominantly Catholic country, agreed to open its doors to at least 25 Iraqi Christian refugee families — 149 people in total — on the condition that no terrorists would pass through the Assads’ security check.
The Hudson Institute Center for Religious Freedom in a press release about the ABC 20/20 documentary provided the time line and key actors involved in this dramatic rescue:
In summer 2015, Hudson Center for Religious Freedom director Nina Shea initiated a project to resettle Iraq’s most vulnerable minorities in countries where they would have residency rights (denied them in Kurdistan), practice their religion freely, and be safe. On August 17, Chaldean Catholic priest Douglas Bazi, who operates the Mar Elia camp, met with Shea at her office and asked her help to resettle his refugees out of the region. Shea immediately agreed.
With the encouragement and support of Hollywood producer Mark Burnett, Hudson brought on as an advisor evangelical leader and author Johnnie Moore and contracted security expert Joseph Assad. For three months, the team carried out extensive research, vetting, planning, logistical support, advocacy and preparatory travel under this project.
During this period, Shea met with the Syriac Catholic Patriarch Younan, several other Iraqi bishops, Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vice President of Slovakia, and diplomats, legislators and officials from dozens of countries in North and South America, Western and Central Europe, Australia, Armenia, and Kurdistan, as well as those of the United States.
It was the small Central European country of Slovakia that finally agreed to accept the Iraqi Christians, after being urged to do so by a key Vatican official who is Slovakian. On December 10, the Hudson team took these Iraqi Christian refugees to Slovakia in a plane chartered by Mercury One, the charity of media personality Glenn Beck, supported with [$12 Million in] funds donated by thousands of American citizens.
“While the world is focused on Syrian refugees, we never forget that tens of thousands of vulnerable Iraqi Christians who’ve escaped ISIS remain stranded in camps in Kurdistan and throughout the region with dim prospects of ever returning home,” said Nina Shea. “We hope our efforts will prompt other countries – especially the United States – to take them in.”
Slovakia is the first country to accept a large group of displaced “IDP” Iraqi Christians who survived ISIS and are displaced inside Iraq. Four days after Slovakia opened its doors, on December 14, and after closely observing the Center’s project, the neighboring Czech Republic announced it too would admit Iraqi Christian IDPs, beginning in January, 2016.
The United States does not accept Iraqi Christian IDPs for resettlement. Last summer, the State Department had even withheld two-week tourist visas from some of the same Christian children evacuated through the Center project last week; they had been awarded scholarships by a New Hampshire sports camp.
We have written about the plight of Assyrian and Chaldean Christians in Kurdistan and Syria and the refusal by our State Department to admit them under the Refugee Resettlement Program. We have published articles and conducted interviews about the genocidal threat towards Iraqi Christian with Canon Andrew White, the Vicar of Baghdad and Joseph T. Kassab of the Iraqi Christian Advocacy and Empowerment Institute (ICAEI) in both the New English Review and interviewed them on The Lisa Benson Show. The Lisa Benson Show has established the Queen Esther Project to assist in funding efforts for the rescue of Yazidis, Christians and other non-Muslim religious minorities faced with extinction by ISIS.
One of the suggestions made by Kassab of the ICAEI, is an emergency airlift akin to that used to evacuate 130,000 Vietnamese in the closing days of the Vietnam War. That was the first wave of Vietnamese refugees that ultimately numbered over 1.2 million. Our State Department had the temerity to suggest that these threatened Christians were excluded when they are covered by one of the priorities in our Refugee Admissions Program, fear of religious persecution. Moreover, as Shea of the Hudson Institute has written, Christians were apparently excluded from a proposed State Departmernt genocide ruling that only covered Yazidis.
Those Vietnamese refugees were brought to Gulf Coast and created a vibrant community engaged in shrimping and other economic enterprises. There is a large Vietnamese Catholic Church, Our Lady of Martyrs, in our community. Instead of admitting these threatened Christians, the Administration is granting admissions to Syrian and other Muslim refugees, despite concerns about possible ISIS terrorist infiltrators among them. Iraqi and Syrian Christians would be easily vetted and would likely be admitted under Family Reunification Visa Programs. The question is will Americans who took time out from holiday preparation to watch the ABC 20/20 documentary be aroused to contact the White House and Congressional Representatives to open this country to admit Iraqi Christians as productive citizens, as they did Vietnamese four decades ago.
EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared in the New English Review.