The letter “N” in Arabic, for Nazarene or Christian, hangs over the door of an Iraqi Christian family’s home in Mosul, Iraq. It signifies ISIS has targetted the family for extermination. The family was forced to flee. Photo courtesy of A Demand for Action

Canada deaf to persecuted Christians’ cries

By  Susan Korah, Catholic Register Special
  • July 21, 2022

The protection of persecuted Christians (and other faith minorities) is not at the summit of the Canadian government’s priorities. This was glaringly obvious to me as I attended the Summit on International Religious Freedom, hosted recently in Washington by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.

Convened for “increasing public awareness and political strength for international religious freedom,” the sold-out event became for three days a think-tank in action for advocacy organizations, faith leaders, victims of religious persecution, high profile U.S. government representatives and international ambassadors and ministers. They were there to present and listen to stories of religious oppression from Nigeria to Pakistan to China and the Middle East; also, to offer policy recommendations to governments around the world to protect victims of faith-based persecution.

The U.S. ambassador-at-large for religious freedom, Rashad Hussain, was a featured speaker. There were high-profile politicians from the U.S. and the U.K., two countries that have made a commitment to pursue the cause of freedom of religion or belief as specified in Article 18 of the UN Declaration of Human Rights.

Sadly, Canada was missing in action. No high-level government representative was in sight.

Andrew Bennett, Canada’s former ambassador for international religious freedom, was a panelist at a breakout event on the religious dimension of the Ukraine war, but not in an official capacity. The office was abolished by the Trudeau government in 2016. It was considered by many a step that devalued religious freedom as a critical dimension of human rights and important foreign policy tool for maintaining peace and stability.

In sharp contrast, Ambassador Hussain has a strong advisory role and a direct influence on American policy to advance and protect freedom of religion or belief around the world.

I was invited to speak on the plight of Middle Eastern Christians who survived genocide at the hands of ISIS, the violent extremist group that terrorized Christians and other faith minorities between 2004 and 2019, and pursues its campaign of extermination despite official defeat by U.S.-led forces in 2019.

I was happy to be a voice for vulnerable Christians who fled Iraq and Syria during the terrifying years of the ISIS occupation of their homelands, and are now trapped in Lebanon. It is a country where they have no citizenship status. They are denied the right to employment, health care or education, placing them in an impossibly difficult situation.

I witnessed their deplorable living conditions in tiny cramped apartments in Beirut with no income or help for multiple health problems. They were totally dependent on charities such as ADFA, Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) and CNEWA (Catholic Middle Eastern Welfare Agency) for their daily bread.

After living for so many years in Lebanon, and watching the political scene in their homelands deteriorate, most have lost hope of returning to recover their stolen homes and live in safety as free and equal citizens.

About 300 families staged a rally on June 9 in Beirut, begging the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) to respond to their applications for resettlement in a country such as Canda where they can live in dignity instead of daily humiliation. Some have been waiting for over seven years to get any response from the UN.

Along with my fellow-panelists, I relayed their story at the breakout session hosted by ADFA, hoping that it would spur some action by policy makers in Canada, the U.S. and the UNHCR.

At the end of the three days, I felt that my journey to Washington had by no means been an exercise in futility. Nuri Kino, Steve Oshana, executive director of ADFA, and I were invited to a private meeting with Ambassador Hussain. He listened carefully as we requested that the U.S. State Department produce a report on whether the process for recovering homes stolen from Christians who fled Iraq and Syria was a fair and equitable one.

“We depend on civil society organizations like yours for our reports on what’s happening on the ground,” he told us.

Canada needs to do more to protect Christian and other faith minorities who are homeless and stateless. It must recognize that Christians are the most persecuted faith group in the world.  At the very least we can accept more Christian refugees.

(Korah is a writer in Ottawa.)

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