Discriminatory policies and negligence within the United Nations are aggravating a crisis among Christians in the Middle East. Over one million Iraqi and Syrian Christians have fled their homes and remain displaced as a result of radical Islamic terrorism and the bloody Syrian civil war. Unknown to most, Christians across the Middle East regularly face persecution and violence for their faith. UN refugee camps remain unsafe for Syrian Christians to enter, and most Iraqi Christians who have fled their country have yet to gain official refugee status.
This failure to recognize and reform these problems is disgraceful.
The Trump administration should force the United Nations to take all necessary steps to ensure that persecuted Christians are treated with dignity. These reforms should include formally granting displaced Iraqi Christians an expedited refugee status, creating refugee camps specifically for persecuted Christian minorities from Iraq and Syria, and cracking down on radical Islamic extremism within existing refugee camps.
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Christians in Iraq and Syria fled in record numbers as over one million individuals sought safety from the rise of the Islamic State (ISIS) in 2014 and the bloody Syrian Civil War in 2011. Families who fled both countries have been confronted with new problems after barely escaping total war and radical Islamic terrorism.
For starters, Syrian Christian refugees who arrived at UN refugee camps discovered that these camps were not safe for them to enter. Nowhere is this better illustrated than with the Zaatari Refugee camp in Jordan. Zaatari, the largest Syrian refugee camp in the Middle East with over 80,000 residents, does not host a single Christian family.
Christians are not technically barred from these camps but face violence and persecution from Islamic radicals if they dare enter. Worse, the United Nations does not offer any additional protection for Christians despite this danger being a known fact. Since Christians do not reside in camps, they often struggle to obtain the basic necessities granted to refugees such as food and aid. This inaction is shameful.
The situation for Iraqi Christians remains just as bleak. ISIS combatants began to flood across the border to Iraq as the Syrian Civil War began to spill over in July 2014. Iraqi security forces put up little fight as less than 1,500 ISIS fighters easily defeated over 30,000 Iraqi troops during the fall of Mosul. These radical Islamic fighters began gobbling up historically Christian towns and territories at rapid speed.
Chaos ensued as over 100,000 Iraqi Christians fled their homes virtually overnight. Families who were forced to stay were given a brutal ultimatum: convert to Islam, pay heavy religious taxes, or perish. Worse, Mosul, which hosted one of the oldest Christian communities in the world, was obliterated and remains scattered to this day.
To this point, the United Nations has refused to allow displaced Iraqi Christians to obtain expedited refugee status. This is the case even as foreign policy experts and humanitarian activists sounded the alarm on ISIS' genocidal campaign against Christians. The blockade at the UN is largely due to Vladimir Putin and the Russian regime, who refuse to allow any resolution through the UN Security Council that would subject Syria to international intervention (as it was with several resolutions that Russia blocked with its veto right). Official UN recognition of "being subject to genocide" is what displaced Iraqi Christians need to be considered refugees. Without this designation, the United Nations can continue to refuse them support.
This situation can also be attributed to the previous administration's failed foreign policy agenda. President Obama embraced a "leading from behind" approach to foreign policy throughout his eight-year tenure. This approach had severe consequences for Iraq and Syrian Christians as radical Islamic groups rampaged across the region. Furthermore, the Obama administration took no action in helping displaced Christians and allowed the United Nations' status quo to remain.
Thankfully, the Trump administration has made helping displaced Christians a top priority. President Trump has taken aggressive action to combat radical Islamic terrorist groups and hold regimes accountable who persecute Christians such as Iran. What's more, Vice President Mike Pence made the historic declaration that the U.S. will bypass the United Nations and give aid directly to Christians. "We will no longer rely on the United Nations alone to assist persecuted Christians and minorities in the wake of genocide and the atrocities of terrorist groups," Pence noted during the speech.
While these actions are refreshing, there is still more to be done. Islamic extremists continue to control significant areas of the region, and Christians face persecution, violence, and death. Christians from Iraq and Syria who have been forced to flee their homes remain in hiding and have no safe place to settle. Christians must continue to lobby the Trump administration to take further actions and force the United Nations to help displaced Christians. The future of Middle Eastern Christianity depends on it.
Alexander W. Titus is a Fellow with The Public Interest Fellowship in Washington, DC.