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Trump ban will hurt Christian refugees fleeing conflict, say Iraqi Catholic leaders

Despite Iraqi forces recently retaking eastern Mosul from Islamic State, the Sunni Muslim jihadists are expected to put up a fierce fight in other parts of the war-torn nation. Destroyed buildings in Mosul seen on Jan. 23, 2017. Photo courtesy of Reuters/Ahmed Jadallah

ROME (RNS) As confusion continued over President Donald Trump’s ban on refugees and travelers from seven Muslim countries, Catholic leaders from Iraq are warning that the policy change will hurt thousands of Iraqi Christians languishing in Middle East refugee camps.

“They would like to continue their lives in Europe, Canada, Australia or America,” Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil told a news conference in Rome on Monday (Jan. 30).

Despite Trump’s promises to give preference to Christian refugees seeking to enter the U.S., “(h)is decision will make it harder for them. It is not easy to distinguish from their names who is Christian and who is Muslim.”

Warda told the media he had personally been affected by the visa ban.

After stopping in Rome he was due to meet with Republican and Democratic lawmakers in Washington this week to discuss the plight of Christians displaced by the violence perpetrated by the Islamic State group.

Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil, Iraq, at Myeondong Cathedral in Seoul, South Korea on Oct. 12, 2016. Photo courtesy of Aid to the Church in Need

Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil, Iraq, at Myeondong Cathedral in Seoul, South Korea, on Oct. 12, 2016. Photo courtesy of Aid to the Church in Need

But Warda was forced to cancel his trip after the immigration ban was imposed.

“I am one of those people who is not able to travel. I cannot get on the plane and I hope to know by tomorrow if I will go,” Warda said. “We will see.”

There are an estimated 100,000 Iraqi Christian refugees living in limbo in camps located in Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan.

Warda is a leader of the Chaldean Catholic Church in Iraq, the largest body of Christians in the country and one that has been decimated since the U.S. invasion in 2003, an action that the Vatican and Iraqi church leaders strongly opposed.

In other comments published Monday, Chaldean Patriarch Louis Raphael I Sako of Baghdad also said Trump’s policy of preferential immigration for Christians was a “trap” and would “create and feed” tensions with Muslims.

“Every reception policy that discriminates (among) the persecuted and suffering on religious grounds ultimately harms the Christians of the (Middle) East, because among other things (it) provides arguments to all propaganda and prejudice that attack native Christian communities of the Middle East as ‘foreign bodies,’ groups supported and defended by Western powers,” Sako said, according to the Catholic news agency Fides.

“Those who seek help do not need to be divided according to religious labels. And we do not want privileges,” he said. “This is what the Gospel teaches, and what Pope Francis pointed out, who welcomed refugees in Rome who fled from the Middle East, both Christians and Muslims without distinction.”

Religious leaders from Catholic, Protestant and evangelical faiths have attacked Trump’s policy change as discriminatory and inhumane. They claimed the executive order pitted one faith against another.

The Iraqi conflict is far from over and a battle is now raging for control of the strategic city of Mosul, although government forces have reportedly gained ground against Islamic State militants in the east of the city.

The number of Christians in the country has fallen from 1.3 million in 1987 to less than 300,000 today, according to church estimates.

Warda urged Trump to use his power for creating peace in the Middle East and elsewhere in the world.

“We would like to see a more peaceful world, no violence, no extremism,” he said. “The Middle East has suffered so much.

“We have so many IDPs (internally displaced persons), so many victims. We are tired. If he (Trump) could do something and use his political power to put an end to the violence we would be grateful.”

The archbishop said 10,000 Christian families had sought refuge in Erbil after the Islamic State group cut a swath through towns and villages in northern Iraq, destroying homes and churches.

“You can see the hatred in the destruction of the churches and the homes that were looted,” he said.

Warda said Christians wanted to rebuild their communities but needed greater assurances from the Iraqi authorities that it was safe to return home.

“The future is vague; no one knows if there will be another war after this,” he said. “If we don’t act, more Christians will leave the country.”

Pope Francis has spoken out many times in support of Christians persecuted for their faith in Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East.

At a prayer service he attended with Chaldean Catholics during his visit to Georgia in September, he cited the Christians in Syria and Iraq.

“Save the victims of injustice and maltreatment from their suffering,” he prayed.

(Josephine McKenna covers the Vatican for RNS)

About the author

Josephine McKenna

Josephine McKenna has more than 30 years' experience in print, broadcast and interactive media. Based in Rome since 2007, she covered the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI and election of Pope Francis and canonizations of their predecessors. Now she covers all things Vatican for RNS.


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  • The silence of the GOP as to the various laws stepped on or broken by the half-baked executive order is quite telling. Of course not allowing refugees into the country is going to lead to tragedy. Trump might as well be lining people up for execution, since that is the end result of people being denied asylum and refugee status.

  • We are both in favor of the Ban and in favor of helping the Catholics and Christians of Iraq. If all the monies spent by Leftist organizations to protest the Ban were given to charities helping the Poor and suffering in these countries, it would be a great tribute to their sincerity for the needy of these lands!

  • And if all the money spent by rightist groups went for anything other than attacking everyone else, it might mean that they actually care.

  • That’s very intelligent reply, Ben. Because all our money does go to helping the poor and afflicted.

  • Of course if it isn’t spent fighting this half baked counterproductive ban, then we let more rights be destroyed and make it much harder to defend the poor and needy.

    You are in favor of religious tests for government treatment. You hate religious freedom and are merely being self serving.

  • So it is admittedly a Muslim ban, which Trump said it wasn’t, and everyone knew it was. Why do you hate religious freedom so much?

    Religious tests for government treatment violate every principle of religious freedom to it’s core.

    Plus the order is backfiring in spectacularly catastrophic ways.

  • Anti-Christian persecution is one of the areas “where Pres. Trump and Pope Francis can do business,” US Vatican reporter, John L. Allen Jr., stated. (The others were the “obvious” issue of abortion as well as the anti-transgender “gender theory” and “religious freedom” to discriminate against LGBTQ persons) “Pope Francis repeatedly has referred to what he calls an ‘ecumenism of blood’ and also stressed there are more Christian martyrs today than in the early era of the Church,” Allen wrote. On Jan. 28, the pope said “Modern martyrs exemplify true Christian unity” referencing in particular the kidnappings by ISIS. The pope has never acknowledged that many more Muslims than Christians have been killed, maimed and raped by ISIS, “Western wars killed four million Muslims between 1990 and April 2015,” and “11 million Muslim-on-Muslim killings between 1948 and 2013.”

  • Trump must not believe that keeping these Christian refugees trapped in the midst of these deadly conflicts is the best option for them.

  • “Every reception policy that discriminates (among) the persecuted and suffering on religious grounds ultimately harms the Christians of the (Middle) East, because among other things (it) provides arguments to all propaganda and prejudice that attack native Christian communities of the Middle East as ‘foreign bodies,’ groups supported and defended by Western powers,”

    In other words, the president’s Muslim ban is making it much, much worse for every refugee, Christians perhaps especially. But Bannon and the rest of the NaziKKKs in the white house love it.

  • Which option are we talking about? Do you favor the option where they stay put and get picked off by Islamic terrorists?

  • I favor the option where any refugees go through 2 years of vetting, interviews, research and documentation. “Extreme” vetting, you know, like they do now.

  • Look at the Facebook page for Ordo Militaris – you’re just blowing your breath against a brick house. There are better ways to expend our energies. #resist!

  • The problem this presents is that thwy have had all kinds of misery from Muslim inmigrants in Europe. Who’s to say those the persecuted Muslim groups won’t persecute? They don’t work and play well with others as a group and those that are being good will probably get pressured into terraforming America for Islam, which is probably just another front group for the globalists, as, according to Pacepa, certain Muslim groups were front groups for the Soviets whether consciously so or not. Maybe Pope Francis could get involved with helping his flock to safety somewhere or somehow, but, unlike our preachy leftist activist population, at least he took some of these Muslims he cares for so much into his place.

  • Let’s be clear. Yes, one of those refugees could hurt you. For that matter, some guy could walk into your church during Bible study and kill 9 participants in cold blood. (Esp. now that Congress, last week, removed the safeguards against those who had previously not been allowed to purchase guns because of mental health issues.) The question is, what are the chances? There hasn’t been a single murder in this country by anyone from any of the places on Trump’s ban since 9/11. After 9/11, loads of new rules were put in place. And now we’re talking about refugees from Syria. Our position is completely different from Europe. Nobody is coming ashore by boat, unvetted. Refugees are only arriving here after an 18-24 month vetting.
    Also know this: half of Syrian refugees, 50%, are children. Some of them are orphans, their parents were killed and they were swept along with other refugees.
    As to what our “preachy leftist activists” are doing, guess who lives in sanctuary cities, guess who are members of churches and community groups currently taking or just about to receive (as my town was) its first refugee family. We’ve been raising money and making plans for months, churches and community organizations.

  • I don’t know. I saw a whole flood of men as the “refugees”. I don’t think it was the women and children threatening to beat up or kill Christian refugees amongst them or pushing them off boats. I think we’d have far less of them here than we have. As for vetting, how did that vetting go when all those kids from south of the border came through? Why are we seeing diseases coming back we haven’t had in a long time? Are we sure they’re not coming amonst Latinos sneaking into America. El Shabab has been seen there and I don’t think they are staying in Mexico. You forget to take into account “civilization jihad” headed up by groups like CAIR and spoken for, I believe, by Aziz Ansari types that use ridicule to shame people into raising the gate. They have played both parties. The terrorists are just the whitehead of the pimple. Even decent ones will be dragged under like good Italians or others in mob-infested towns. At least the Italian mob stuck to bullying their own, probably because they were contained by a country not softened by self-hate inspiring presidents like the last one. Trump is trying to unite us, but that means weeding out the tares amongst those groups by opposing their self-interested activism. BTW, I don’t fully trust Trump and voted third party, but I support his upsetting the apple cart of both parties’ establishment elites, who probably work for a higher oligarchical Pax Romano-style cabal (though not specifically Jewish). A little chaos will come of it, but most will be on behalf of the globalists and their front groups, who could care less for, if they even know anything about, the situation in those countries. When the mostly white liberals that point fingers at conservatives take in these ommigrants and have them at their yuppie get-togethers, if not also in their homes, and/or go over thete and make lives better for them, I will take them seriously.

  • Fact Check on Syrian Refugees
    Take these issues as the separate ones they are. Refugees from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan are not getting here the same way as immigrants arriving unvetted on our southern border. (Who incidently, aren’t refugees, they may be asylees, but they are not classified as refugees. A refugee applies while still abroad, and is processed while still abroad not when they’ve reached the border. )

    The rest of what you’ve written is so unhinged, it doesn’t seem a coherent response would matter. And what I’m left with is a question about why you would be coming to Religious News anyway. You don’t seem inspired by any particular religious views, just scraps of untruths laced together with fear. Why bother with religion?