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CURRENT ISSUE:  September 4, 2006VOL. 44, NO. 15Oakland, CA

Iraqi Christians struggle to obtain visas
from U.S. State Department


ARLINGTON, Va. (CNS) -- Joseph Kassab, head of the Chaldean Federation of America, met Aug. 25 for the sixth time this year with officials from the State Department to press the case to allow Chaldeans -- Iraqi Christians -- fleeing their homeland to emigrate to the United States.

“We’ve got their attention,” Kassab told Catholic News Service during an interview prior to meeting No. 6.

After the meeting, he told CNS by telephone, “There’s going to be a little help. ... There’s a little light at the end of the tunnel.”
Kassab, whose brother is Chaldean Archbishop Djibrail Kassab of Basra, Iraq, is still waiting for effective action.

He estimated that less than half of the 1.1 million-1.2 million Chaldeans who were in Iraq before the U.S. war began in 2003 remain in Iraq today. Kassab said most of them -- 92 percent -- have fled to Greece, Syria, Turkey and Jordan.

Kassab distributed a 44-page report, “Operation R4 -- Wave 1: A Survey Study of Iraqi-Christian Refugees Worldwide,” during his State Department meeting. The previous day he gave the report to representatives of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. The “R4” in the report’s title, Kassab said, stands for research, rescue, relief and resettlement.

Kassab said the U.N. response was, “If you have the data and you want to organize it, we’ll certainly look into it.”

Kassab’s report documents more than 1,200 cases of Chaldean Christians leaving Iraq, and those interviewed were allowed to give multiple reasons for their departure.

In interviews with 368 Chaldean refugees now in Greece, Syria, Turkey and Jordan, the organization found that 85 percent of the cases involved people leaving because of religious persecution. About 6 percent of the cases involved Chaldean women having been sexually assaulted or raped, and 15 percent of the cases included the vulnerability of women and girls in their family as a reason for leaving Iraq.

About 23 percent of the cases involved abduction of a relative by members of the Iraqi insurgency, militia or Islamic gangs.

Chaldeans have been targeted for violence because “the Iraqi Christians are a peaceful people,” Kassab said. “They are not divided into tribes. They don’t have a militia to protect them like the Shiites or the Sunnis or the Kurds.”

Kassab said there are about 250,000 Chaldean-Americans, concentrated largely in the Detroit and Chicago metropolitan areas and in California and Nevada.. He added that most Chaldeans leaving Iraq would ordinarily qualify for emigration to the United States, as they can identify a close relative willing to take them in who is a U.S. citizen.

However, a federal regulation that was passed as part of the Patriot Act forbids the entry of immigrants determined to have provided material support to the enemy. Paying ransom to kidnappers has been interpreted as providing material aid, Kassab said. Even the Iraqi citizen who helped locate U.S. Army Pvt. Jessica Lynch and aided in her rescue has been denied entry because he had to pose as being sympathetic to the Iraqis, Kassab said.

Kassab told the story of a Chaldean woman he identified only as Miriam, whose house was occupied for a week by insurgents. They forced Miriam and her daughters, ages 16 and 15, to cook for them and give them directions. On the last day of their stay, the six insurgents raped Miriam and her daughters and told them they would be killed if they ever said anything. After the ordeal, Miriam and her daughters fled to another country -- the name of which Miriam did not want disclosed for fear of the insurgents’ revenge.
The family was denied U.S. entry because the cooking and directions under duress were construed by U.S. officials as providing material support.

An armed security guard stands watch as Iraqi Catholics arrive for Easter Mass in Baghdad, April 16. Many Iraqi Christians are trying to leave the country, which is rocked with increased sectarian violence.

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