Christian refugees who have worked for the United States-led coalition in Iraq have run into a brick wall at the U.N. agency in Jordan that has been hired by the State Department to process asylum seekers, Newsmax has learned from interviews with over 100 refugees, U.N. aid workers, and U.S. diplomats in Jordan.
The problems begin once predominantly Muslim UN aid workers learn that the refugees are Christian.
“They treat us like dogs,” was a complaint heard frequently from the refugees, whom Newsmax interviewed separately and in groups over a four-day period in Amman, Jordan, along with members of a U.S. Christian fact-finding led by former South Carolina Gov. David Beasely.
President Bush pledged earlier this year to expedite the relocation of Iraqis fleeing the sectarian violence, with a target of admitting 7,000 Iraqis as political refugees this year.
Another 500 Iraqi translators and embassy workers were to receive emergency relocation to the United States under a congressional mandate, because they were facing death threats in Iraq for having helped the coalition. But so far, the United National High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), which is being paid tens of million of dollars by the United States to process the refugees, has recommended just 2,000 out of the estimated 750,000 Iraqis now living in Jordan for resettlement to the United States.
Out of that small number, very few have actually left Jordan, a senior U.S. diplomat in Jordan told Newsmax.
Scores of refugees told the visiting U.S. delegation that when UNHCR workers discovered they were Christian, they refused to examine their documents. Many had brought letters and certificates of appreciation from U.S. contractors or the military to prove that they had worked for coalition, but were unable to present them.
Suad Mansour Odish, 51, came to Amman in late November 2005 with a 24-year-old daughter who had worked for an American contractor in Baghdad.
On Nov. 15, 2005, Odish received a phone call from a Muslim group, saying they had just kidnapped and murdered her 24-year old son. Their real target had been her daughter, they said. They took the son when they couldn’t find her and killed him instead.
Despite registering with UNHCR in Amman, Odish has never been referred to the United States embassy for an interview.
Like other Christians interviewed in Amman, she believes the problem was the Muslim case workers at the UNHCR, who told her they had no interest in examining the documents she tried to show them.
Jihan George Abdulalhad, 37, came to Amman with her four young children, one of whom had been badly burned in a car accident and needed urgent medical care. She had relatives in the U.S. and should have been a candidate for immigration to the United States under family reunification procedures, but no one at the U.N. office ever told her that.
When Abdulalhad went to the UNHCR office in Amman, she was processed by a female Shiite intake officer from Lebanon, who was wearing Islamic head covering. “Her name was Hannan Hamdan. The first question she asked me was, 'What is your religion?” Abdulahad said. “When I said I was a Christian, she wouldn’t even look at any of my documents. She said she would call me later to set up an appointment.”
Five months went by, and the UNHCR never called, so Abdulhahad went back to their offices in Amman and asked to see the case worker again. “Hannan refused to talk to me,” she said. “But I saw Muslims get approval to relocate to the United States on the first day.”
A group of 50 Iraqi Christian refugees interviewed at the offices of the Assyrian Orthodox church said they all had been interviewed by Muslim case workers at the UNHCR, and that the U.N. workers were uniformly hostile to them as Christians.
Refugees interviewed at the Chaldean church, and at the New Testament Baptist church in Amman, told similar stories of rampant religious discrimination at the UNHCR office, citing Hamdan and other Muslim workers from Pakistan and Tajikstan by name. Some of these refugees, once they were identified as Christians, have waited over three years just to receive a phone call back from the UNHCR to review their documents.
“The UNHCR interest is to get people to fill out their forms and register as asylum-seekers, because that is how they get their money from Uncle Sam,” said Religious Freedom Coalition director Willlam J. Murray, who accompanied Gov. Beasely on his fact-finding mission. “They have no interest in helping these people resettle.”
Another dramatic case involved Wadah George Dallo, 36, an Assyrian Christian who was installed as mayor of Tall Kayf, a Christian city in the Nineveh plain north of Baghdad, by U.S. forces shortly after the liberation of Iraq.
Mayor Dallo worked so effectively at reorganizing the local government in his area that he was given several letters of commendation from Taskforce Battle Force of the 101st Airborne Division, then commanded by Lt. Gen. David Petraeus. Dallo fled to Amman with his family after two assassination attempts in 2004.
“At first, I was afraid to say I had worked for the coalition,” he told Newsmax. But in February 2006, he applied for asylum with UNHCR. One letter he gave to the UNHCR commended him for “meritorious service to the soldiers of Taskforce Battle Force during operation Iraqi Freedom.” Another called him “a true and trusted friend of the coalition forces in Iraq.”
Despite three return visits to the U.N. office to inquire about his case, Dallo never received any indication that it was being reviewed.
After President Bush announced that Iraqis who had worked for the coalition would receive “direct access” to U.S. immigration officers, Dallo learned that an American team was visiting the International Office of Migration (IOM) in Amman to conduct interviews. Dallo then went directly to the IOM office, but they told him he had to go back to the UNHCR for a referral. “They said that the UNHCR had to send my file over, but they never did,” he said.
When former South Carolina Gov. David Beasely raised the allegations of discrimination against Christians with a senior UNHCR officer in Amman, he just rolled his eyes. “I don’t see discrimination at our office, and if anyone thinks they have been discriminated against, we have complaint boxes,” said Peter Janssen, a Dutch citizen who has worked for more than a decade at the U.N. refugee agency.
Gov. Beasley and his delegation had been trying for three days to set up a meeting with the head of the UNHCR mission to Amman, Anne Maley, but she never returned phone calls. When they finally got through to her last Thursday, just hours before the Muslim weekend began, she begged out of a meeting for family reasons, but designated Janssen to represent the Agency.
Janssen told the Americans over the weekend that the Christian refugees “are not the worst off” among those fleeing Iraq, and that they were receiving plenty of support from local churches and from U.S. interest groups.
He swept aside complaints relating to Muslim intake officers. “I am not worried about these accusations, because they are ridiculous,” he said. Intake officers were required to look at any supporting documentation the asylum-seekers brought to them, Janssen acknowledged. But he offered no explanation why so many of the refugees insisted that the U.N. workers had refused to look at their documents.
The Religious Freedom Coalition’s William Murray told Janssen that his view of the Iraqi Christians was “180 degrees off the mark.”
He later told Newsmax that the meeting with Janssen had given him a better understanding of how the UNHCR office in Amman functioned.
“There is a cultural mindset in that office that Christians need less help than other groups,” Murray said.
“It reminds me of what certain people say about Jews — the Jews are better organized, the Jews have more money — and now we see that applied to Christians from Iraq. When you say that about Jews, it’s called anti-Semitism. Here there is a similar cultural bias, but against Christians.”
Murray pledged to work with Congress and the White House upon his return to Washington, DC later this week to find solutions to the refugee problems.
“I supported President Bush on this war. But we caused this. The United Nations didn’t cause this. These people are our problem and shouldn’t be handed over to some Muslim from Lebanon or Pakistan who got a job at the U.N. All the suffering we see here is because some [expletive deleted] bureaucrat wasn’t smart enough or willing to dispense some simple information,” Murray told Newsmax.
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