They escaped death when ISIS was bent on their destruction, but refugees who fled Iraq and Syria are treated like second-class citizens in Lebanon.
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Christians from Iraq and Syria who fled ISIS are now languishing in limbo in Lebanon, where they are living lives of abject poverty and are being denied their basic human rights, say advocates for Middle Eastern Christians.
Representatives from the Swedish NGO, A Demand for Action (ADFA), are calling on the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) to resettle Assyrian/Chaldean/Syriac Christians from Iraq and Syria in a country where their human dignity is respected.
Speaking at a breakout event at the US Commission for International Religious Freedom Summit 2022 in Washington, DC, Nuri Kino, founder and president of ADFA, highlighted the plight of over 300 Christian families who had lived through the intense agony of the Isis invasion of their homelands.
“In 2004, the first beheading of a young Christian man, Rimon Shamoun took place, while ISIS operatives photographed this barbaric act,” he said. “Since then, thousands of Christians were kidnapped and killed, churches desecrated and destroyed. Such are the gruesome scenarios that forced survivors to flee in terror with nothing but the clothes on their backs. They had lost everything — families, homes, businesses, churches and communities. Some of them reached Lebanon after hazardous journeys, only to find themselves trapped in a situation that could only be described as limbo,” he said.
“They had expected Lebanon to be a temporary refuge for them, but they have been waiting for years for their asylum applications to be processed by the UNHCR. In the meantime, they are living in abject poverty, in tiny one-room apartments for which they pay exorbitant rents that unscrupulous landlords charge them. They have no access to adequate employment, or healthcare, or education for their children, and no prospects of living normal, decent life,” he added.
A Demand for Action, one of the convening partners of the Summit, hosted a side event called “Trapped in Limbo: Middle Eastern Christians Living in the Shadow of Genocide” to give a voice to these refugees in transit. They also shared the results of a survey they had conducted with over 300 Christian families from Iraq and Syria currently in Lebanon This was shortly before the refugees staged a rally in front of the UNHCR office in Beirut, begging the high commission to expedite their applications for resettlement in a third country.
The survey revealed that they felt abandoned by the world during the long years they had spent in Lebanon, and also that they had lost all hopes of returning to their beloved homelands. “The rally was like the last call from a sinking ship,” Kino said.
“Our lives would be in danger there (in Syria), especially my two daughters’ lives,” Sahar Makhoul, 55, told Aleteia in an interview. “I barely managed to save them from being raped, just because they are Christians, and we escaped to Lebanon. Conditions in Syria are still dangerous for us.”
Lydia Daniel, 35, from Iraq said: “What’s left for us in Iraq? All our houses were destroyed, the whole area has become a wreck and who will guarantee our safety and the future of our children if we go back there?”
“Our organization is committed to helping these refugees resettle in another country because it’s their choice and hearts’ desire,” Nuri Kino said. “However, Iraq and Syria are part of the cradle of Christianity, and have been the homeland of these Assyrian/Chaldean/Syriac Christians for millennia. Ideally, they should have the option of returning to their homelands, but current conditions are not encouraging.”
“ADFA is concurrently working with the US Commission for International Religious Freedom to remove one of the obstacles to their return,” he added. “This is the issue of recovering their lands and properties that were stolen from them while they fled for their lives.”