31 January 2017
In this image from 2014, Syrian girls at Good Shepherd Social Center in Deir al-Ahmar, Lebanon, make Christmas decorations. Hundreds of Syrian refugees attend school at the center. As a result of President Trump’s executive action last week, Syrian refugees such as these are prevented from resettling in the U.S. until further notice. (photo: CNS/Brooke Anderson)
Promised resettlement in the United States after escaping death and destruction in their homeland, many Syrian refugees are frustrated and angry over President Donald Trump’s executive action banning their entry to the U.S. until further notice.
“We’re frustrated. We were told that we were accepted for resettlement in the U.S., and now everything is at a standstill,” a Syrian refugee woman told Catholic News Service, wiping away tears as she surveyed her crumbling home in the Jordanian capital.
“Neither the U.S. Embassy nor the International Organization for Migration have responded to our repeated telephone calls about our status or what to expect in the future,” said the mother of four young children, whose family fled to Jordan in 2013 after their home was bombed. Rahma provided only her first name for fear of reprisal.
“If there is no longer any chance of being resettled in the U.S., then we would like to know whether we can apply somewhere else which will welcome us,” she said.
The burden of not being able to work in Jordan over these past years has left Rahma’s family desperate, unable to provide even the basic necessities of food and heating for the winter.
Refugee Abdel Hakim, a pharmacist from the southern Syrian town of Daraa, cannot contain his anger at seeing his dreams of starting a new life in the United States dashed. He and his family were far along in the approval process and expected to travel shortly from Jordan to the U.S. He called the measure “discriminatory and racist.”
“In the beginning, we didn’t want to leave Syria. But as it’s been plunged deeper in war, we now find even the door to America has been slammed shut in our faces,” he told CNS.
Trump’s 27 January presidential action ended indefinitely the entry of Syrian refugees to the U.S., pending a security review meant to ensure terrorists cannot slip through the vetting process. As well, it suspended the entire U.S. refugee resettlement program for 120 days.
The action also slapped a 90-day ban on all entry to the U.S. from seven Muslim-majority countries with terrorism concerns, including Syria. While Jordan is not on that list, the Middle East kingdom hosts more than 1.5 million refugees who have fled conflicts in neighboring Syria and Iraq, including flight from the so-called Islamic State militants.
“These dramatic and discriminatory policies will only harm, not help, U.S. interests and our national security,” Jesuit Refugee Service-USA said in a statement criticizing the decision.
For the past 15 years, as waves of refugees fleeing the 2003 Gulf war, the Syrian civil war and those persecuted by Islamic State militants have flooded Jordan in search of a safe haven, Catholic and other churches have provided food, clothing, heating and other items, regardless of the refugees’ religious background.
International faith-based aid groups, such as Catholic Relief Service and Caritas, have been at the forefront of efforts helping refugees, mainly from Syria and Iraq, but also those who fled the Arab Spring uprisings of 2011.
Resource-poor Jordan has struggled to provide water and electricity, education and health services to hundreds of thousands of refugees as the grinding conflicts in their homelands show little sign of ending. Many Syrian refugees accepted for U.S. resettlement have arrived from Jordan.
More than 27,000 Syrian refugees from 11 Middle Eastern host countries were under consideration for resettlement to the U.S. and in various stages of the approval process at the time of Trump’s action, according to the International Organization for Migration, a U.N.-related agency that interviews and prepares refugees for resettlement.
Quickly, the measure sparked mass protests at U.S. airports and other venues, where people demanded its repeal. Angry demonstrators criticized the ban as completely contrary to America’s ideals and its storied history of accepting immigrants fleeing persecution in search of a better life.
King Abdullah II of Jordan visited Washington Jan. 30, becoming the first Arab leader to meet members of the Trump administration, including Vice President Mike Pence and the secretaries of defense and homeland security.
The king raised the controversial bans in his talks, according to an official statement, which said he “emphasized that Muslims are the No. 1 victims” of Islamic terrorists, whom he called religious “outlaws” who “do not represent any faith or nationality.”
King Abdullah will address the National Prayer Breakfast 2 February and is expected to meet Trump.
The monarch is considered Washington’s closest Arab ally battling the Islamic State as part of the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq and Syria. Jordan hosts considerable U.S. military hardware and personnel, serving as a critical base for U.S. air operations against the Islamic State in Syria. It has also experienced deadly Islamic State attacks on its territory.
Jordan has also called the new administration’s proposal to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem “a red line” that could evoke “catastrophic” consequences, including widespread violent unrest at home and in the region. Jordan is the custodian of Muslim and Christian holy sites in Jerusalem under a 1994 peace treaty with Israel, only one of two treaties the Jewish state has with Arab countries.
30 January 2017
An elderly woman from Mosul, Iraq, sits at a refugee camp in Khazer, Iraq, on 29 January. Giving priority to Christian refugees for settlement programs would be “a trap” that discriminates and fuels religious tensions in the Middle East, said Patriarch Louis Sako of Baghdad.
(photo: CNS/Ahmed Jadallah, Reuters)
Giving priority to Christian refugees for settlement programs would be “a trap” that discriminates and fuels religious tensions in the Middle East, said Iraq's Chaldean Catholic patriarch.
“Every reception policy that discriminates (between) the persecuted and suffering on religious grounds ultimately harms the Christians of the East” and would be “a trap for Christians in the Middle East,” said Patriarch Louis Sako of Baghdad.
The patriarch, speaking to Fides, the news agency of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, commented on an executive action by U.S. President Donald Trump that temporarily stops from U.S. entry refugees from all over the world and migrants from seven countries in an attempt to review the screening process. The document asks that once the ban is lifted, refugee claims based on religious persecution be prioritized.
Patriarch Sako said any preferential treatment based on religion provides the kind of arguments used by those who propagate “propaganda and prejudice that attack native Christian communities of the Middle East as ‘foreign bodies’” or as groups that are “supported and defended by Western powers.”
“These discriminating choices,” he said, “create and feed tensions with our Muslim fellow citizens. Those who seek help do not need to be divided according to religious labels. And we do not want privileges. This is what the Gospel teaches, and what was pointed out by Pope Francis, who welcomed refugees in Rome who fled from the Middle East, both Christians and Muslims without distinction.”
Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila, Philippines, president of Caritas Internationalis, said any policy that gave priorities to Christians “might revive some of these animosities and might even pit Christians against Muslims, and that (also) might generate contrary action from the Muslims against Christians.”
“This is a time when we don’t want to add to the prejudice, the biases and even discriminatory attitudes evolving in the world,” he told Catholic News Service in Beirut 30 January at the Caritas Lebanon headquarters.
Emphasizing that he had not read the text of the executive action, but only news reports, the Philippine cardinal said announcing a ban being applied to specific countries was akin to “labeling them — and the migrants coming from those countries — as possible threats to a country. I think it is quite a generalization that needs to be justified.”
Cardinal Tagle, who has visited refugee settlements as part of his role as Caritas president, said he asks people who express reservations about receiving refugees and migrants, “Have you ever talked to a real refugee? Have you heard stories of real persons?”
“Very often, the refugee issue is reduced to statistics and an abstraction,” he said, and when people actually talk with refugees, “you realize that there is a human story, a global story (there) and if you just open your ears, your eyes, your heart then you could say, ‘This could be my mother. This could be my father. This could be my brother, my child.’
“These are human lives,” he said. “So, for people making decisions on the global level, please know that whatever you decide touches persons for better or for worse. And if our decisions are not based on the respect for human dignity and for what is good, then we will just be prolonging this problem — creating conflicts that drive people away.”
Canadian Jesuit Father Michael Czerny, undersecretary for migrants and refugees at the Vatican’s new Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, told CNS in Rome that Christians are asked to reflect on the Good Samaritan and not to “react and act as if the plight of migrants and refugees is none of our business.”
People should focus on those seeking security and “take the trouble to find out the facts” — like how “migrants, far from being a drain, make a net contribution to the domestic economy — rather (than) swallow allegations which just trigger fear.”
Richer countries should not only welcome those who are fleeing, they “can do much more to help improve security and living, working, education and health opportunities in the refugee- and migrant-producing countries,” he said in a written statement.
More effort should be put into peacemaking and more resources dedicated to “helpful foreign aid.”
“The role of government is to enact its people’s values, keeping different factors in balance. National security is important, but always in balance with human security, which includes values like openness, solidarity, hope for the future,” the Jesuit priest said.
“The bottom line,” he said “is the centrality and dignity of the human person, where you cannot favor ‘us’ and ‘them,’ citizens over others.”
Contributing to this story was Doreen Abi Raad in Beirut.
27 January 2017
Sister Antoinette helps an Iraqi refugee study at her convent in Amman. Read more about how these religious sisters are Welcoming the Stranger in the Winter 2016 edition of ONE. (photo: Tamara Abdul Hadi)
26 January 2017
Tags: Iraqi Christians Jordan Sisters Iraqi Refugees
A visitor enjoys a hot meal at the Harmony Center of Caritas Georgia. For two decades, Caritas Georgia has provided a wide range of services — including classes and health care — to the most vulnerable populations of the Caucasus. Learn more about their work in A Letter from Georgia in the current edition of ONE. (photo: Antonio di Vico)
25 January 2017
CNEWA’s president, Msgr. John E. Kozar, left, greets children at a school run by the Sisters of Destitute in the Ghaziabad Slums project at Deendayalpuri. (photo: CNEWA)
The current edition of ONE features some beautiful photographs of India, and this reflection by CNEWA President Msgr. John E. Kozar:
Despite horrible conditions of poverty, neglect and abuse, the children there manage to smile. When I try to bring smiles on their faces, I am rewarded with the gentle and reassuring messages that they reflect back to me: Life is very difficult, but there is always reason to be joyful. That joy and those beaming faces seem to radiate in the programs that CNEWA is so privileged to support.
Being a priest who loves to engage — some would say “entertain” — the children, I find myself always more the beneficiary of loving joy, rather than the benefactor of good will. And the joy of these beautiful children is infectious, especially for their priests, sisters and other caregivers. Even the sisters who insist on discipline and good order cannot resist the power of those grinning little ones. And that only brings out the best in me — as I, too, am captivated by their joy-filled smiles and laughter.
Below, you can see more images from a recent trip to India, narrated by Msgr. Kozar.
24 January 2017
Boys carry sandwiches on 20 January in Aleppo, Syria. Conveying Pope Francis’ closeness to the Syrian people, a Vatican delegation visited Aleppo 18-23 January, following the end of the hostilities that left thousands dead and the city in ruins. (photo: CNS/Khalil Ashawi, Reuters)
Conveying Pope Francis’ closeness to the Syrian people, a Vatican delegation visited Aleppo following the end of the hostilities that left thousands dead and the city in ruins.
Msgr. Giampietro Dal Toso, secretary-delegate of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, visited the city 18-23 January, accompanied by Cardinal Mario Zenari, apostolic nuncio to Syria, and Msgr. Thomas Habib, an official at the nunciature, the Vatican said 24 January.
The delegation met with “Christian communities and their pastors, who expressed gratitude to the pope for his constant concern for beloved Syria,” the statement said.
They also visited several refugee camps and Catholic institutions assisting in relief efforts, including a humanitarian assistance center run by Caritas Aleppo.
According to the Vatican, during a meeting with the church’s charitable institutions, Msgr. Dal Toso and the delegation emphasized the importance of providing relief assistance to the Syrian people.
“With the support of the universal church and thanks to the generous contribution of the international community, such help may be intensified in the future to meet the growing needs of the people,” the Vatican said.
Members of the delegation also took part in an ecumenical prayer service that coincided with the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, as well as several meetings with Islamic representatives.
The “responsibilities of religions in educating for peace and reconciliation” was among the issues discussed during the meetings, the Vatican noted.
23 January 2017
Villagers in Izbet Chokor, Egypt, greet one another along the road that runs through the hamlet, which both Christians and Muslims have made their home. Learn how they are Finding Common Ground in the Winter 2016 edition of ONE. (photo: Don Duncan)
20 January 2017
Members of the Ethiopian Orthodox clergy attend the liturgy at Fasilides Bath during the annual Timkat Epiphany celebration on 19 January 2017 in Gondar, Ethiopia. Timkat is the Ethiopian Orthodox festival which celebrates the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River. During the festival, Tabots — or models of the Ark of the Covenant — are taken from churches around Gondar and paraded through the streets to Fasilides Bath. (photo: Carl Court/Getty Images)
19 January 2017
Children welcome a visitor in the village of Garora, on the outskirts of Dehli. CNEWA’s president Msgr. John E. Kozar visited India recently. See more of his images and read his impressions here.
(photo: John E. Kozar)
18 January 2017
Georgian children study English at a Caritas youth center in Tbilisi. Read about one woman’s commitment to her people in A Letter from Georgia in the Winter 2016 edition of ONE.
(photo: Antonio di Vico)