I attended an informative — and very moving — presentation yesterday on the humanitarian relief effort underway in Syria, Lebanon and Jordan. The talk was given here in Grand Rapids by Mark Ohanian, director of programs for International Orthodox Christian Charities (see my podcast with him here). What I learned was that despite the massive scale of human suffering, the crisis is likely to get much worse. Given the gains that the Islamic State is making in Iraq, that might be a safe prediction.
Ohanian said that the relief effort in Syria, where IOCC works alongside Red Crescent and other principal agencies, is made more difficult and expensive because of the breakdown in Syrian society and the need to import so much of the supplies. The video above shows how entrepreneurial Syrians are already starting businesses in the refugee camps to help themselves.
If you want to offer direct help the refugees, you can make a donation on the IOCC site here. IOCC, in partnership with the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and All the East, serves all refugees regardless of religion or ethnicity.
The response of the United States government to the crisis has not been inspiring. In “US State Department Says No to Iraqi Christians,” Faith J. H. McDonnell describes how many refugees are getting the cold shoulder, especially Assyrians.
Donors in the private sector have offered complete funding for the airfare and the resettlement in the United States of these Iraqi Christians that are sleeping in public buildings, on school floors, or worse. But the State Department — while admitting 4,425 Somalis to the United States in just the first six months of FY2015, and possibly even accepting members of ISIS through the Syrian and Iraqi refugee program, all paid for by tax dollars, told Dobbs that they “would not support a special category to bring Assyrian Christians into the United States.”
The United States government has made it clear that there is no way that Christians will be supported because of their religious affiliation, even though it is exactly that — their religious affiliation — that makes them candidates for asylum based on a credible fear of persecution from ISIS. The State Department, the wider administration, some in Congress and much of the media and other liberal elites insist that Christians cannot be given preferential treatment. Even within the churches, some Christians are so afraid of appearing to give preferential treatment to their fellow Christians that they are reluctant to plead the case of their Iraqi and Syrian brothers and sisters.
Set aside Scripture’s command, “do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers (Galatians 6:10),” and look at the reality on the ground. The narrative is false. For the most part, Christians are being given the exact opposite of preferential treatment. What would that be? “Detrimental?” “Prejudicial?” “Unfavorable?” Whatever you wish to call it, to deem it preferential would be laughable, and Western Christians should be working to change the narrative.
In a May 2 interview, the Russian Orthodox Metropolitan Hilarion said that the West was finally beginning to acknowledge the widespread persecution of Christians in the Middle East:
Yes, something has begun really changing of late, and if before only Islamophobia and anti-Semitism were discussed and resolutions only this issue were adopted at international platforms, now the persecution against Christians is discussed for the first time. But it began only after in several Middle East countries the so-called ‘Arab Spring’, inspired not from within but from outside the Arab world, led in fact to the extermination of Christianity.
Only a little over ten years ago in Iraq there were about one million and a half Christians. Now nobody knows exactly how many of them are left there. Various estimates are given from one to four hundred thousand. Most of the Iraqi Christian were either killed or had to leave their homeland. There are almost no Christians left in Libya, where there used to be about one hundred thousand. Tragic events took place for several years in Egypt. Now we can see what has been going in Syria for already several years, where the so-called opposition (actually uncontrolled bands of militants) with the support of Western countries have systematically wiped out the Christian population and the Christian heritage.
All this is taking place before the eyes of the civilized world. And only after videos of mass executions appeared in the Internet, the persecution against Christians began to be voiced at last in Europe and generally in the West. By that time however, dozens and hundreds of people had been already killed and millions had become roofless. And we can no longer wait and limit ourselves only to talks, for resolute actions are needed here and now.
This video gives you a sense of the logistical challenges involved in getting aid to those who need it in Syria: