This interview with Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil, Iraq, the Chaldean Catholic Archbishop, gives an inside perspective on the recent Executive Order issued by President Trump:
From my perspective in Iraq, I wonder why all of these protesters were not protesting in the streets when ISIS came to kill Christians and Yazidis and other minority groups. They were not protesting when the tens of thousands of displaced Christians my archdiocese has cared for since 2014 received no financial assistance from the U.S. government or the U.N. There were no protests when Syrian Christians were only let in at a rate that was 20 times less than the percentage of their population in Syria.
I do not understand why some Americans are now upset that the many minority communities that faced a horrible genocide will finally get a degree of priority in some manner.
I would also say this to all those who cry out that this is a “Muslim Ban” - especially now that it has been clarified that it is not - to understand clearly that when they do this, they are hurting us Christians specifically and putting us at greater risk. The executive order has clearly affected Christians and Yazidis and others, as well as Muslims.
Here in Iraq we Christians cannot afford to throw out words carelessly as the media in the West can do. I would ask those in the media who use every issue to stir up division to think about this. For the media these things become an issue of ratings, but for us, the danger is real.
Most Americans have no concept of what it was like to live as a Yazidi or Christian or other minority as ISIS invaded. Our people had the option to flee, to convert, or to be killed, and many were killed in the most brutal ways imaginable. But there were none of these protests then of ISIS’s religious test.
Our people lost everything because of their faith - they were targeted for their faith, just like the Yazidis and others too. Now these protesters are saying that religion should not matter at all, even though someone was persecuted for their faith, even though persecution based on religion is one of the grounds for refugee status in the UN treaty on refugees.
From here I have to say, it is really unbelievable.
It is exactly this reasoning, that religion should not be a factor at all in American policy, that has resulted in Christians and other minority communities being overlooked by U.S. and UN aid programs. We are too small to matter, our communities are disappearing from constant persecution, and for years the American government didn’t care. Now when someone tries to help us, we have protesters telling us that there can be no religious basis for refugee status - even though the UN treaty and American law say that religious persecution is a major reason for granting the status, and even though ISIS targeted people primarily on the basis of religion.
I am not saying that any group should have a blanket preference when it comes to being admitted as a refugee in the United States. Such a policy would not be right, and would clearly be against our Catholic faith and teaching. And that is not the policy as I understand it. But it is very hard for me to understand why comfortable people in the West think those who are struggling to survive against genocide, and whose communities are at extreme risk of disappearing completely, should not get some special consideration. We are an ancient people on the verge of extinction because of our commitment to our faith. Will anybody protest for us?
My archdiocese hosts the largest community of displaced Christians in my country, and since 2014, we have received no money from the United States government and no money from the UN. We have hosted and cared for all of these displaced people on our own, with funds we raised privately on our own, nearly all of it from private Christian charitable groups. We are talking about housing, food, medicine, and schools. We have done all of this, and are continuing to do so.
While our fellow countrymen seem to just be waking up to the horrors of the people in many Middle Eastern countries, we have been raising awareness for many years, obviously not listened to by the US or the UN authorities. Two years ago we hosted the local Chaldean Catholic community and were able to provide them with thousands of dollars to send over to the Iraqi Archbishop to assist with the displaced people being cared for in Erbil. Also our Bishop has welcomed many eastern Catholic refugee communities here in our Diocese and given them the use of some of our Parishes so they can celebrate the Eucharist and have a place to meet.
Fr. John B