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St Elijah Monastry south of Mosul, St Paul

‘We sent you St Paul and you sent us terrorists’

It seems someone in the US State Department forgot to tell a group of Syriac Orthodox Christian refugees in The United States that they are supposed to see the liberation of East Aleppo as a tragedy.

Published: January 6, 2017, 1:12 pm

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    Before the conflict, approximately 1.1 million Syrians, or 5.2 percent of the population, were Christians. The majority—at least 700 000 — have now fled.

    Journalist and Middle-East political analyst, Paul Gadalla, talked to Syrian and Iraqi Christian refugees in the US at St Mark’s Syriac Orthodox Church in Teaneck, NJ, for Middle East Eye.

    “We’re so excited about what’s happening in Aleppo,” said one parishioner after he wished the bishop a Merry Christmas. The church was abuzz with talks of the battle for Aleppo coming to a close. “Of course we’re happy for the victory [of Syrian and Russian forces] in Aleppo. And now we pray for the city’s kidnapped bishops to be released [by the US-backed terrorists],” said Bishop Kawak.

    Along with other ethnic and religious minorities, they have bore the brunt of the Islamic State group’s violent takeover of vast swathes of territory in Syria.

    Despite being a vulnerable population that has suffered immensely in the regional conflict, Christians in the Middle East are finding it difficult to seek asylum in the US.

    The most cynical obstacle placed in the path of Christian asylum seekers by the Obama Administration, says Paul, has been to treat the special religious tax or “Jizya” that all Christians must pay or be beheaded if they’re passing through ISIS or al-Qaeda territory as though these Christians were giving “material support to a terrorist entity” of their own free will.

    So those Christians who have paid the tax get sent back to Syria. Thus it’s best for Syrian Christians who have had to pay the tax to keep from being killed to seek asylum in Europe or Canada instead.

    As one embittered Syrian Christian told a BBC cameraman: “We sent you St. Paul 2 000 years ago to take away the darkness; and you sent us terrorists to kill us.”

    karin@praag.org

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