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U.S. Denies Visa to Expert on Christian Persecution in Iraq–Was to Testify Before Congress

Paul Malo / Aleteia

Erbil women from Mar Elia camp

John Burger - published on 05/01/15 - updated on 06/08/17

Clears a delegation of Yazidis at same time

A multi-ethnic, interdenominational delegation from Iraq is expected to visit Washington to plead the case of religious minorities being persecuted by the Islamic State group. But because the visa for an Iraqi nun was denied, there will be no Christian in the group. 

Unless the US State Department changes its mind, Dominican Sister Diana Momeka, who has worked among the internally displaced persons in the northern Iraqi city of Erbil since tens of thousands of Christians were forced to take refuge there last summer, will be sitting out the mid-May trip. She was invited to join the delegation, which will be testifying before House and Senate foreign relations commmittees and meeting with officials at the State Department, USAID, and various NGOs, by the Institute for Global Engagement and former congressman Frank Wolf’s 21st Century Wilberforce Initiative.

Nina Shea, of the Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom, wrote at National Review Online Thursday:

Earlier this week, we learned that every member of an Iraqi delegation of minority groups, including representatives of the Yazidi and Turkmen Shia religious communities, has been granted visas to come for official meetings in Washington — save one. The single delegate whose visitor visa was denied happens to be the group’s only Christian from Iraq.

Sister Diana Momeka of the Dominican Sisters of Saint Catherine of Siena was informed on Tuesday by the U.S. consulate in Erbil that her non-immigrant-visa application has been rejected. The reason given in the denial letter, a copy of which I have obtained, is:

You were not able to demonstrate that your intended activities in the United States would be consistent with the classification of the visa.

But, according to Sister Diana, a consular officer in Erbil said she couldn’t get a visa because she’s an IDP. In other words, the State Department thinks she’s going to pull a fast one: get to Washington under false pretenses and then overstay her visa, as if she was someone coming in on a tourist visa intending to find a job and stay, or apply for asylum. 

Elyse Bauer Anderson, senior advisor and director of special projects at the 21st Century Wilberforce Initiative, confirmed for Aleteia that her organization had written a letter for Sister Diana but did not want to speculate on why the nun was denied a visa.

"I believe that one other member of the delegation (the representative of the Turkmen group) is based in Iraq but he is not an IDP so he didn’t encounter any problem," Anderson said. "The Yezidi representative actually lives in Canada I believe."

A State Department spokeswoman, Nicole Thompson, said that for reasons of privacy, the Department of State does not discuss individual visa cases.

"While Section 222(f) of the INA prohibits us from disclosing details from individual visa cases, the State Department is very concerned about the safety and rights of members of Iraq’s minority populations, including Christians, as we are for all Iraqis," she said. "Protecting these communities in the face of the existential threat the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) poses is a part of our regular diplomatic engagement, as well as one of the priorities of our counter-ISIL strategy and of the 62-nation international counter-ISIL Coalition. This coalition has come to the aid of minority communities and others by providing humanitarian assistance, conducting a campaign of coordinated airstrikes, military assistance, diplomatic engagement, and intelligence and messaging coordination. "

Christians in the Middle EastIraqIslamist Militants
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