Christians from the Middle East are suffering the most but Western governments are ignoring their plight – according to a leading refugee relief coordinator – who warns that extremist Islamists are infiltrating groups seeking asylum in Europe.
Father Khalil Jaar, of the Messengers of Peace Association, said Christians are being “eliminated” by invading Daesh (ISIS) forces, who, he said, have marked them out as the main target.
The Jordan-based priest, who is providing shelter and schooling for thousands flooding into the capital, Amman, said that for this reason he was critical of Western governments proposing to take in refugees from the main camps.
Fr Khalil emphasised that Christians and other minorities are not given an equal chance of seeking asylum in Europe.
Speaking in an interview with the Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need, Fr Khalil said that some refugees entering Europe are Daesh sympathisers, evidence picked up from his many interviews with asylum seekers and reports received from Syria and Iraq. He said he saw “a direct link” between the influx of Middle East refugees over the past few months and the Paris terrorist attack last month.
Fr Jaar said most of the refugees were not asylum seekers but economic migrants in search of a better life. He said:
“The West has totally failed to recognise what is going on in the Middle East. Most of the refugees flooding into Europe are people looking for a better life. If they were genuine asylum seekers, they would have accepted to stay in the first available country offering them sanctuary. The real refugees are left far behind.”
“Why is the West not doing more for Christians and other minorities? They are the ones who are suffering the most. If the Christians stay in Syria and Iraq, they risk being eliminated by Islamic extremists and if they seek sanctuary abroad in the main refugee camps, they suffer abuse from those already there.”
He said Islamist groups are putting extreme pressure on Christians in Syria and Iraq to convert to Islam, pay the Jizya tax or face being killed. He said such threats were being made by invading Islamist forces including the al-Nusra Front, Jaysh al-Islam and Ahrar al-Sham as well as Daesh.
Saying that most of the forces fighting in Syria are from outside the country, Fr Jaar said:
“Whenever [the Islamist groups] seize any territory, one of their first aims is to eliminate the Christian presence. The people most in danger are the Christians.”
He paid tribute to organisations such as Aid to the Church in Need and another charity, Iraqi Christians in Need and other international charitable NGOs, saying that Christians arriving in Jordan and elsewhere are totally dependent on their help.
Father Jaar said that in the summer he was told by Joanna Wronecka, the Head of Delegation of the European Union to Jordan, that there were no grants available to help Iraqi refugees, only Syrians. She said that this was the instruction of the donor countries. Commenting on this, Fr Khalil told ACN: “This is discrimination. Both the Iraqi and Syrian refugees are victims of the same violence and intimidation.”
Fr Khalil’s work at his parish of Marka, a suburb of Jordan, includes help for 450 Iraqi Christian families – 12 families living in the parish compound, the rest living in rented accommodation funded by organisations including ICIN and ACN.
Thanking Aid to the Church in Need, he said: “If ACN didn’t help the Iraqi refugees in Erbil, the Christians would be in a desperate situation. Fr Jaar also thanked ICIN and Caritas and the many who have made private donations. “I want to thank all those who came to our help – in an official way or a personal way. If these organisations did not take care of these Iraqi refugees, they would be abandoned.”
John Pontifex is head of press and information for Aid to the Church in Need. This article has been republished with permission from Aid to the Church in Need.