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    August 1, 2014 (El Cajon) – Tomorrow, nearly 12,000 people worldwide will be staging protests over the violence against Christians in Iraq and Syria.   In San Diego's East County, Ben and Jessica Kalasho have organized a local protest at 6 p.m. in Prescott Promenade Park  on Main Street in downtown El Cajon.

    ISIS terrorsts have sprayed the red letter for "Nazarene" shown at left on Christian homes, where residents face a choice of converting to Islam or death.  Many have fled, seeking safe refuge.

    A Facebook page for the local event lists 156 participants so far.  “Join us to stand in solidarity with our Assyrian/Chaldean/Syriac brothers and sisters around the world to protest the violence against the Christians in Iraq and Syria,” Kalasho writes.  Guests can RSVP at the Facebook page here locally:  https://www.facebook.com/events/813180182039823/permalink/815478478476660/

    In other cities visit  https://www.facebook.com/events/653888978028664/ or scroll down for a list of events listed as of now:





     AUG 2ND DATE



    Australia:

    1 - Sydney:

    https://www.facebook.com/events/813405588690287/



    2 - Melbourne: https://www.facebook.com/events/1392673994314772/?ref_dashboard_filter=upcoming



    Austria

    Vienna

    - https://www.facebook.com/events/534561123337102/



    Belgium

    -Brussels

    https://www.facebook.com/events/1448679455392299/?unit_ref=related_events



    CANADA

    -Hamilton, on

    https://www.facebook.com/events/253051611559235/#



    GERMANY

    1 - Bruxelles: https://www.facebook.com/events/1448679455392299/?unit_ref=related_events



    2 - Gutersloh

    https://www.facebook.com/events/489904424489472/



    3 - Wiesbaden

    https://www.facebook.com/events/776748132345680/



    4 - Essen

    https://www.facebook.com/events/638996079540931/



    5 - Bundesweite Aktio

    https://www.facebook.com/events/1444002599195529/?ref=22



    6 - Augsburg

    https://www.facebook.com/events/303704129791751/



    7 - Mainz

    https://www.facebook.com/events/254123098116865/



    Sweden

    1 - Stockholm: /www.facebook.com/events/262116697312712/



    2 - Gothenburg:

    https://www.facebook.com/events/1446545952275420/



    United Kingdom:

    London:

    https://www.facebook.com/events/276242862579561/



    Lebanon:

    Beirut: https://www.facebook.com/events/346197122196806/



    USA:

    1 - New York, New York

    https://www.facebook.com/events/751112268284448/



    2 - El Cajon/San Diego

    https://www.facebook.com/events/813180182039823/?ref=3&ref_newsfeed_story_type=regular



    3 - North California: https://www.facebook.com/events/610479159069085/



    4 - Los Angeles

    https://www.facebook.com/events/264058817118392/?ref_notif_type=plan_user_invited&source=29



    5 - Phoenix, Arizona

    https://www.facebook.com/events/693443734026269/?notif_t=plan_user_invited



    6 - South California

    El Cajon

    https://www.facebook.com/events/813180182039823/



     

     


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    By Miriam Raftery

    Multiple media outlets are reporting that a San Diego man is believed to be the first American killed fighting with ISIS terrorist forces in Syria. The body of 33-year-old Douglas McAuthur McCain was found with a U.S. passport and cash.

    He had attended City College in San Diego and worked at the African Spice restaurant, 10 News reports.  About a decade ago, he converted to Islam and began calling himself “Duale, The Slave of Allah” and Duale Khalid, though his family has said they were shocked to learn of his jihadist involvement.

    He had a past arrest record for minor drug possession, theft and disorderly conduct in Minnesota, where he previously lived.  He worked for the nonprofit Dawah-Calling to Allah, according to his Facebook page, which has since been removed, though his  Twitter was still active as of Tuesday afternoon.

    One recent tweet reads, “Ya Allah when it's my time to go have mercy on my soul have mercy on my bros.”

    Mark Arabo, national spokesman for the Iraqi Christian community, said,

    "It has become overwhelmingly clear that ISIS poses a threat not simply to the Middle East, but to America. We can only assume that this San Diego man has not worked alone in the radicalization of his ideas. While the United States can work towards eliminating members of ISIS from the Middle East, it is much more difficult to kill an idea. Therefore, the Iraqi Christian community is calling upon the United States to take a constructive role in stopping the flood of radicalized Islam from within our own nation. ISIS is no longer contained to the Middle East. We must ensure that these terrorists do not attain a hold of the minds and hearts of our countries Muslims."

    ISIS, short for the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, has imposed Islamic Sharia law across the regions it has seized in Syria and Iraq, murdering those who refuse to convert to their faith.


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    Watch on YouTube

    Read the President's full address here.

    By Miriam Raftery

    September 10, 2014 (Washington D.C.)-- President Obama tonight spoke to the nation , laying out a comprehensive strategy to “degrade and ultimately destroy” ISIL (the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) terrorist group that has declared an Islamic state across Iraq and Syria, massacring thousands of Iraqis and beheading two captured American journalists.

    “Working with the Iraqi government, we will expand our efforts beyond protecting our own people and humanitarian missions, so that we’re hitting ISIL targets as Iraqi forces go on offense.  Moreover, I have made it clear that we will hunt down terrorists who threaten our country, wherever they are,” the President said. “That means I will not hesitate to take action against ISIL in Syria, as well as Iraq.  This is a core principle of my presidency:  If you threaten America, you will find no safe haven.”

    The President made clear that the U.S. will lead an international effort to eradicate ISIL. He assured that unlike the past decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, this conflict will not include U.S. combat troops on the ground.  Instead, he laid out a four-part strategy. First, air strikes will target ISIL in Iraq, Syria and wherever else ISIL poses a threat.

    Obama also announced increased support for groups fighting ISIL on the ground, including 475 additional U.S. military personnel, training, intelligence and equipment; These groups include Kurdish and Iraqi fighters as well as Sunnis willing to combat ISIL, which has slaughtered more Muslims than religious minorities. The President said  that in Syria, the strategy will be to support opposition to ISIL extremists. He made clear that “In the fight against ISIL, we cannot rely on an Assad regime that terrorizes its own people -- a regime that will never regain the legitimacy it has lost.”

    Third, the President aims to work with international partners on efforts that will include cutting off ISIL’s funding, strengthening intelligence and defenses, countering ISIL’s ideology and stemming the flow of foreign fighters into and out of the Middle East.  In two weeks, President Obama will chair a meeting of the U.N. Security Council to further mobilize the international community, he revealed.

    The fourth component of the plan is humanitarian aid for those displaced from their homes by ISIL. This includes Sunni and Shia Muslims who are at grave risk, as well as tens of thousands of Christians and other religious minorities. 

    “We cannot allow these communities to be driven from their ancient homelands,” the President said, noting that already, allies are flying planes with the U.S. over Iraq, sending arms and assistance to Iraqi security forces and Syrian opposition, also sharing intelligence and providing billions of dollars in humanitarian aid.

    “Secretary Kerry was in Iraq today meeting with the new government and supporting their efforts to promote unity,” the President said, adding that Kerry will next travel across the Middle East and Europe to enlist more partners, especially “Arab nations who can help mobilize Sunni communities in Iraq and Syria, to drive these terrorists from their lands,” he said, adding, “This is American leadership at its best:  We stand with people who fight for their own freedom, and we rally other nations on behalf of our common security and common humanity.”

    The speech drew praise from Mark Arabo, a leader in the national Iraqi Christian community, including some 60,000 Iraqi Christians in San Diego County.

    “The Iraqi-Christian community stands by the remarks made by President Obama in his address to the nation,” Arabo says. “I will continue to work with members of Congress and the White House to ensure that more is done to secure safety for those religious minorities who wish to stay in Iraq, and safe passage out of the country for those left stateless by ISIL.”

    He adds, “Our hope is that the commitment made by America, and the international community is sufficient enough to systematically rid the Middle East of ISIL and it's various elements. And, only after the decomposition of ISIL can we begin the long road towards recovery in a Middle East that is nothing short of broken.”

    President Obama noted the bipartisan support for his strategy here in the United States, and welcomed congressional support “to show the world that Americans are united in confronting this danger.”

    On the eve of the anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks in the U.S., the President emphasized that his highest priority remains the security of the American people.  Targeting ISIL is the latest in a series of actions to take the fight to the terrorists, he observed. Those efforts have included killing Osama bin Laden and much of al Qaeda’s leadership in Afghanistan and Pakistan, as well as recent successful strikes against al Qaeda affiliate leaders in Somalia and Yemen—efforts the President said have made American safer.

     “Still,” he said, “we continue to face a terrorist threat. We can’t erase every trace of evil from the world, and small groups of killers have the capacity to do great harm.  That was the case before 9/11, and that remains true today.  And that’s why we must remain vigilant as threats emerge.”

     Although ISIL calls itself the “Islamic State,” the President emphasized that the terrorist group is neither Islamic nor a state.

    “ISIL is not ‘Islamic.’ No religion condones the killing of innocents, and the vast majority of ISIL’s victims have been Muslim,” President Obama said. “And ISIL is certainly not a state. ... It is recognized by no government, nor the people it subjugates. ISIL is a terrorist organization, pure and simple.”

    In a region that has known so much bloodshed, these terrorists are unique in their brutality, the President said. “They execute captured prisoners.  They kill children.  They enslave, rape, and force women into marriage.  They threatened a religious minority with genocide.  And in acts of barbarism, they took the lives of two American journalists -- Jim Foley and Steven Sotloff.”

    Adding that ISIL’s sole vision is the slaughter of anyone and everyone who stands in its way, the President detailed the threat that ISIL poses to Iraq, Syria, and the broader Middle East. And “if left unchecked,” he said, “these terrorists could pose a growing threat beyond that region, including to the United States.

    Intelligence sources believe that thousands of foreigners -– including Europeans and some Americans –- have joined them in Syria and Iraq.  Authorities voice concerns that trained and battle-hardened fighters could try to return to their home countries and carry out deadly attacks.

    America’s responsibility to lead

    The President stated that America has the capacity and the will to mobilize the world against terrorists and to help Muslim communities in a fight as well for opportunity, tolerance, and a more hopeful future.

    He said America will be remembered for helping to protect innocent people, such as stopping  the massacre of civilians trapped on a mountain top after they had fled ISIL forces. 

    “That is the difference we make in the world,” the President concluded. “And our own safety, our own security, depends upon our willingness to do what it takes to defend this nation and uphold the values that we stand for –- timeless ideals that will endure long after those who offer only hate and destruction have been vanquished from the Earth.”

     

     

     


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    Photo: Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, right, and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel testify before Senate Armed Services Committee on the threat from ISIL

    By Miriam Raftery

    September 22, 2014 (Washington D.C.)--U.S. military & partner nation forces have begun striking ISIL targets in Syria using mix of fighters, bombers and Tomahawk missiles, Rear Admiral John Kirby, the Pentagon Press Secretary, confirmed Monday evening.  The U.S. has previously led over 150 air strikes in Iraq, before joining with allies to expand the assault on ISIL, or Islamic State, forces into Syria.

    Residents of Raqqa, the Islamic State’s self-proclaimed capital, have reported attacks on the city on social media sites.  An estimated two-thirds of ISIL forces are located in Syria.

    Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has said that the plan "includes targeted actions against ISIL safe havens in Syria, including its command and control logistics capabilities and infrastructure."

    ISIL, the terrorist group which calls itself the Islamic State, is called the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant by the White House and Pentagon. ISIL has forged a destructive path, seizing large portions of Iraq and Syria  ISIL fighters have slaughtered thousands  of innocent civilians and forced millions of people in Iraq and Syria to flee their homelands, creating a  humanitarian crisis.  The victims face torture and death if they refuse to convert to Islam; ISIL is also selling women and young girls into slavery and forcing some into marriage with ISIL fighters.  

    The group also beheaded American journalists and has called on ISIL supporters to wage attacks on Americans in the United States.

    The move has drawn praise from some but concern from others. But  Representative Charles Rangel has called for a draft and a war tax, so that all Americans will weigh heavily the costs and consequences of war.

    A protest is planned in front of the White House by the National Campaign for Nonviolent Resistance on Tuesday. Among those who will be speaking there is Medea Benjamin, who issued a statement Monday,"This is exactly what ISIL wants. They're trying to get the U.S. involved in a war. There are already U.S. troops in combat and this will mean more. We shouldn't fall into the trap of another immoral and unwinnable war."

    The Washington Post reports that top defense officials have confirmed that all foreign partners participating in the airstrikes against Syria are Arab nations, a condition President Obama set for the U.S. to extend airstrikes into Syria.  The Arab allies named are Saudia Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan, and Bahrain.

    On September 20th, in an address to the nation, the President outlined his rationale for U.S. involvement. He made clear that the U.S. will not send ground troops and that the stakes extend far beyond the Middle East. The President also made clear, “This is not a war of the U.S. versus ISIL, but of “the world versus ISIL.”

     

     

     


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    By Ben Kalasho, Founder and President, San Diego East County Chaldean American Chamber of Commerce

    March 1, 2015 (El Cajon)--When news broke six days ago of more than 200 Assyrians kidnapped by (Da’ash) ISIS, I was on a telephone conference with my high profile contacts on the ground in Kurdish Controlled Areas of Northern Iraq discussing the destruction of Iraqi antiquities dating from the 9th Century BC by ISIS thugs. The report came to me that over 200 Assyrians were kidnapped in the town of Tal Tamr in the Hasaka Province, and other villages in Syria including Tal Hurmoz, Tal Shamiram, Tal Rumman, Tal Nasra which are home to many Assyrians and Syriacs.

    As President of The Chaldean American Chamber of Commerce, I have been in the past year sort of forced to become an expert in the region and this drawn out conflict. My conclusion is that the region that ISIS wants to control by the strategic military advancements it has made is strictly due to the need to seize control over the five border points. Clearly ISIS understands the most important part of this mission and that is oil, water and grains which is in abundance in those areas.

    Almost immediately after hearing this horrific news, I became convinced that we should expect more shocking gruesome murder videos due to the marketing gain that this has on ISIS recruitment. This is extremely concerning to me as these Assyrians are not being protected by anyone. This was echoed by Fred Fleitz former senior CIA analyst who said, “This is ISIS’s latest way to grab headlines and grab news cycle by staging acts of atrocity and recruit followers”.

    As odious as ISIS is, the Assyrian, Chaldean & Syriac communities must use this moment in history to breakdown barriers put up by our own religious factions and so called leaders. Enough is enough, the time when we can look to one another and embrace oneness and unity is now, not tomorrow or the week after. I am putting out this call of distress to every Chaldean, Assyrian and Syriac through out the world. It was almost exactly one-hundred years ago when another genocide against the indigenous Christains of that land took place which resulted in the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of Assyrians and other Christians. Sir Winston Churchill said, “Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”

    My dear humanitarian friends, I felt compelled to write to you today as urgent as the need to breath or drink water. Seize the moment, the world is watching. I am fully convinced that the reason I am writing this humble release whereby I am calling for unity between Assyrians, Chaldeans & Syriacs is solely the by product Church Division which has trickled down through generations. I shouldn’t need to call for unity, it should have already existed. I shouldn’t need to coach anyone on the importance of our common history, it need not be said. It is merely fact, chiefly in this precious moment of literal life and death. I urge you not to look for leadership in these matters by means of clergy but by pragmatic reasoning and genuine care of human kind.

    Sincerely,

     

    Ben Kalasho,

    Founder & President

    Chaldean American Chamber of Commerce

    Office 619-663-7710


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    Trials by ISIS underway as some captives reportedly freed; local Chaldean leaders speak out on crisis

    By Miriam Raftery

    Photo: Open Doors

    March 1,2015 (San Diego’s East County) – Fears mount for hundreds of Assyrian Christians taken captive by ISIS last week, amid reports that the self-proclaimed Islamic State militants are putting hostages on trial, though some reports indicate that a handful have been freed. 

    The hostages include at least 262 men, women and children taken from villages in northeastern Syria, CNN reports.  Open Doors USA, an organization serving persecuted Christians worldwide, reports the captives include 72 families.

    The captives are reportedly being tried by an ISIS court for purported ties to militants fighting ISIS extremists, including joining with Kurdish Peshmarga fighters,  according to an article in International Business Times published today.

    Associated Press reports that 19 of the Christian captives have been freed, according to multiple activist sources.  The Middle East publication Hareetz confirms some captives have been released though estimates vary from 19 to 28.

    Those found guilty of fighting against ISIS (also known as ISIL), however, are expected to be executed.  Concerns have also been raised that some captives could be enslaved, as ISIS has done with other young women and girls that its militants have kidnapped.

    Reactions have been swift. The U.S. launched additional airstrikes on ISIS after the hostages were seized, the Global Post reports.   At the Vatican, Pope Francis led a prayer for the abducted Christians, “These sisters and brothers who suffer for their faith in Syria and Iraq," U.S. News reports.  The Pope promised that the victims would not be forgotten.

    Here in San Diego’s East County, home to tens of thousands of Chaldean and Assyrian Christians from the Middle East, opinions are divided as to what approach should be taken to save Christians in Iraq and Syria.

     Chaldean-American spokesman Mark Arabo announced a trip to Washington D.C. early next week to meet with White House officials and discuss the crisis.  Arabo says reports on the ground indicate as many as 300 may have been taken hostage.

    “I fly to Washington D.C. this coming week with the weight of hundreds of abducted Christians on my heart,” Arabo said in a press statement released Friday.  “The longer our country continues to be unresponsive to the threat of ISIS, the greater their reach becomes. The indifference shown by the White House, and members of Capitol Hill is a death sentence to my people.”

    In an earlier statement on February 24, Arabo said he held a phone call with White House Director for Iraq Andrew Kim, calling for swift and effective protection for religious minorities throughout the Middle East.

    Arabo  says his White House meeting will focus on a two-stage priority laid out by Obama administration officials, including improving security with locally based governments and militias fighting ISIS as well as facilitating reentry of the State Department into northern Iraq to process some 30,000 visa slsots available.  But he believes more must be done to protect religious minorities from ISIS. 

    “The genocide of Christians persists in the region,” Arabo concludes, “and without action from the White House, we face the extinction of a people throughout the Middle East.”

    But Ben Kalasho, president of the San Diego East County Chaldean Chamber of Commerce, has a different perspective.  “I think that Obama has proven to be an astute military strategist,” Kalasho told ECM todady. He added that he supports air strikes and drone attacks on ISIS, but would oppose  sending in U.S. troops.

    Instead he hopes to see more Arab nations such as Jordan join in combating ISIS, as well as more shared intelligence including with Israel.   

    Kalasho, in an editorial published in East County Magazine, calls for unity among bickering Christian factions to confront the crisis posed by ISIS – a crisis that echoes genocide a century ago that resulted in the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of Christians in the region. He echoes Churchill in warning that those who fail to learn from history may be doomed to repeat it.

    “ Assyrian, Chaldean & Syriac communities must use this moment in history to break down barriers put up by our own religious factions and so called leaders,” Kalasho states in his editorial, an open letter to Chaldeans, Syriacs and Assyrians worldwide.  “I felt compelled to write to you today as urgent as the need to breath or drink water. Seize the moment, the world is watching,” he urged.


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    By Miriam Raftery

    May 1, 2015 (San Diego’s East County) – Islamic State or ISIS forces are reportedly demanding ransoms of up to $100,000 apiece for 250 to 300 Christians captured in Syria February 23rd.  Fox News reports the demands were made to Assyrian leaders during negotiations with ISIL fighters arranged by Sunni Muslims.  Thus far, 23 have been released.

    In San Diego, Mark Arabo, a national spokesman for the Iraqi-Christian community in the U.S., issued this statement. “After months of failed negotiations between the two sides, ISIS has made its “final” demands to the Christians."Our community is faced with the heartbreaking task of having to negotiate with these thugs, or face the death of our loved ones.”

    Arabo adds, “Reports that we have received are that these 230 people are living in poor conditions, with minimal food, little shelter, and no ability to bathe. We can only hope that the sufficient funds are raised in a timely manner, and the lives of our brothers and sisters in Christ are preserved.”

    The Jerusalem Post reports indications that ISIS is using some of the Christians as human shields in military conflicts.

    ISIS forces have previously executed Christian prisoners in other areas, as well as destroying many churches and Christian holy sites in Syria and Iraq.

    U.S. policy prohibits payment of ransoms to terrorist organizations by the American government or by families of those abducted, to prevent encouraging more kidnappings.  But last Sunday, ABC TV’s  “This Week” reports the Obama administration is considering changing that policy.

    According to the report, “Under recommendations contained in an ongoing White House review of U.S. hostage policy, there will be absolutely zero chance ... of any family member of an American-held hostage overseas ever facing jail themselves, or even the threat of prosecution, for trying to free their loved ones.”

    The policy is reportedly under review but it is not yet certain when, or if, those recommendations will be adopted.

    That leaves families of hostages held by ISIS struggling for solutions to their loved ones’ anguishing plight.

     


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    Upcoming Sunday Education:

    June 4, 2015 (Poway) Sunday, June 7 and 28, at 9 a.m., St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church in Poway will host an Education Summit.  Nationally-recognized global humanitarian Mark Arabo will share details of the urgent circumstances in Iraq and neighboring Syria. He will provide insights into how we may be able to help our fellow Christians in the part of the world where Christianity was born. The theme of Arabo’s speech will be “Persecution of Christians in the Middle East.”

    Where:

    St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church

    16275 Pomerado Road

    Poway, CA 92064


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    June 27, 2015 (San Diego)--Congressman Juan Vargas and Mark Arabo will be featured in an hour-long special, “Crossing Jordan—Escape from Terror” on Fox News detailing their work  to help facilitate safe passage for religious minorities out of Iraq and Syria, and to secure their freedom.

    The program anchored by Bret Baier premiered Friday night and will air again on Saturday, June 27 at 5 p.m. Pacific Standard Time and on Sunday, June 28 at 6 p.m. Pacific Standard time.

    “It is sure to be a great special and it is incredibly relevant to the border issues we face here in the United States. Also, the San Diego connection makes this story that much more important,” Arabo says.

    Here is a description of the program from Fox: “Jordan’s King Abdullah gives Fox News Reporting unprecedented access to his life and country. Go on patrol with the Jordanian military at the front lines with ISIS and the Syrian regime.  Hear the heartrending stories of Christians and Muslims fleeing torture, massacre and chemical weapons.  And in an exclusive Fox News investigation, learn for the first time about a modern-day underground railroad delivering persecuted Christians into America.  Right now, King Abdullah is fighting two wars at once, both for religious tolerance—will he fight on alone, or will America stand up as well?”


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    October 10, 2015 (San Diego’s East County)--Militants with ISIS, the Islamic State, have released a video that appears to show executions of three Assyrian Christian hostages captured  in Syria in February, the Guardian reports. The terrorists are threatening to kill 200 more hostages, including women and children, unless hefty ransoms are paid for each prisoner, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

    Assyrian and Chaldean Christians have faced genocide at the hands of ISIS for refusing to convert to Islam. International leaders are urging President Barack Obama and Congress to take action, but thus far those please seem to have fallen on deaf ears.

    Locally, Mark Arabo, a leader in the Chaldean community, issued this statement. “"It breaks my heart to see the continuous bloodshed, and the constant persecution of Christians by ISIS. Scholars, journalists, and the American public are in consensus that more must be done to end this genocide. Yet, our government continues to remain inactive. Every video is yet another reminder of the victims our government has left to rot in Iraq and Syria.”

    The Assyrian International News Agency reports, “During the three-day assault on Christian villages in Syria in which the men were kidnapped, churches were burned to the ground and hundreds of Christians were taken hostage. In August another 250 Syriac Orthodox and Syriac Catholic families were captured. Those who have escaped tell of the 'schools of death' to which they were sent, where men are executed and women and girls turned into sex slaves if they refuse to convert to Islam.”

    Thousands have fled, creating a refugee crisis unmatched since World War II, but many others have stayed in their homelands, where they face potential extermination.

    A month ago, a resolution was introduced into Congress, House Concurrent Resolution. 75, calling upon US lawmakers to officially recognize crimes by ISIS against minorities as 'genocide.' Pope Francis has urged the United Nations to come to the protection of these vulnerable communities.

    This week over 100 religious leaders, scholars of genocide, and human rights advocates entreated President Obama to protect Christians and other religious minorities with a declaration of genocide, which would allow the legal weight of the international community to hold perpetrators accountable, while also expanding asylum and relief efforts.

    In Defense of Christians Executive Director Kirsten Evans issued a statement, which includes the following:

    "Swift moral leadership is needed at all levels of the international community. The international community can no longer drag its feet while ancient and peaceful communities in the Middle East face an existential crisis of genocidal proportion. "IDC joins its voice with other organizations, human rights advocates, religious leaders, lawmakers, and people of good will in calling upon the United States government and the international community to act to defend the defenseless."It is time to Stop the Christian Genocide."

     


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    East County News Service

    Photo: Iraqi Christians in El Cajon at a 2014 rally pleaded for help to save persecuted Christians in Iraq

    November 19,2015 (San Diego’s East County) –The House of Representatives has passed a bill to suspend admission of refugees from both Syria and Iraq into the U.S., until national security agencies certify that they pose no security risk.

    The measure passed by 289 to 137, a wide enough majority to override President Barack Obama’s threatened veto, with 47 Democrats joining Republicans to push the bill through.  But Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid has pledged to block the bill in the Senate.

    House Speaker Paul Ryan said “national security is at stake.”  But FBI Director James Comey reportedly voiced concerns that the bill could make it impossible to admit any refugees and even restrict travelers from three dozen countries currently allowed entry under a visa waiver program, CNN reports.

    Meanwhile some Senate Democrats are backing two alternative measures.  One would ban people who have been to Syria or Iraq in the past five years from entering  the  U.S. using the visa waiver program, which currently admits 20,000 people a year—far more than the refugee program, with far less security screening.  The second bill would prohibit people on a terrorism watch list from buying guns or explosives.

    Here in San Diego, home to many refugees from the Middle East,  reactions to the efforts to crack down on refugee resettlement here has been strong.

    David Murphy is the executive director of the International Rescue Committee San Diego program.  He called the House measure “pure political pandering,” adding that it is “particularly shameful for Democrats not to stand by the President when he puts out a statement of policy declaring he will veto the GOP bill.” 

    Murphy notes that other bills would restrict funding for refugee resettlement. Murphy asks”Why are they focused on tearing down humanitarian protections for the victims of ISIS, rather than focusing on how to combat ISIS and end the war in Syria?”

    The House measure would ban all refugees from Iraq and Syria, including Chaldeans and other Christians.  East County is home to some 40,000 or more Chaldean and Assyrian Christians from the region.

    Mark Arabo, a leader in the Iraqi Christian community locally and nationally, issued a statement earlier this week after numerous governors sought to deny entry to refugees from the Middle East.

    "Our national security is of the utmost importance, and takes precedent over any potential refugees that may seek the United States,” Arabo said. “Admitting this large number of refugees is difficult, we are left with two options. Accept refugees only after thorough background checks or fix the countries in which they came from. Both options are viable but come with a different level of sacrifice.” But he concludes, “We cannot turn our backs on Christians and other religious minorities that seek the refuge of the US. It is our moral obligation to grant them the safety they deserve, but only after comprehensive individualized inspection.”  He voiced hope that admission of refugees would be granted “after the fog of the war on terrorism has passed. ”

     

     


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    By Victiashea Matthews

     

    December 30, 2015 (La Jolla)  - The Center for Comparative Immigration Studies (CCIS) and Eleanor Roosevelt College at the University of California, San Diego hosted an event called the “Comparative Responses to Asylum Seeking in Europe, Australia, the U.S., and Middle East” on November 30th,  

     

    What drives international migration?  Why are some countries more hostile and others more accepting?  Those are some of the compelling questions posed by David FitzGerald, Co-Director of CCIS and Professor of Sociology. These are fascinating questions to consider when unpacking the asylum-seeking diaspora. Here are some highlights from the event.

     

    European Union

     

    The first group of experts focused primarily on the European experience of asylum seeking.  Philippe De Bruycker from Universite Libre de Bruxelles explained the many facets of asylum seeking.  It is a moral and religious crisis, considering that some European leaders want their societies to remain Christian by refusing to welcome Muslim refugees, but the Bible says, “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God” Ephesians, 2:19). It’s an institutional crisis considering how the European Council decision to relocate 40,000 persons within the European Union (EU)  was accompanied by a  resolution from the state governments of  the European Council. It’s an international crisis considering how many countries are willing--or not willing--to accept refugees. It’s an operational crisis in that the EU is unable to establish minimum reception conditions on Greek Islands, for example.It’s a political crisis in that there is a lack of internal solidarity and the EU more divided than ever in terms of asylum seeking. It’s a security issue due to concerns of terrorists  hiding among refugees entering the EU through Greece.

     

    Eastern Europe

    Raphi Rechitsky, a visiting scholar at the Center for Comparative Studies,spoke next on the Ukraine and forced migration at the Eastern borders of Europe, which has incentivized new programs that will harden and sometimes militarize the border. In 1998-2003 and even up to 2008, the EU worked with international partners and built houses for migrants. Rechitsky pointed out that the refugee label is socially constructed through an international mechanism of powerful immigration states that try to externalize, especially when powerful states are threatened.

     

    Australia

     

    The next focus point was Australia as Claire Higgins, a Research Associate at the Andrew and Renata Kaldor Centre for International Refugee Law, discussed Australian reactions towards asylum seekers. Australia has among the world’s most restrictive policies towards refugees. Refugees from Syrians and Iraqis were often returned. Tens of thousands of asylum seekers haved arrived by boat, at a high cost for Australia to process. Australia imposed a “No Way” campaign, stating “You will not make Australia home” and  does not allow  asylum seekers admittance to Australia. Neither Nauru nor New Guinea has agreed to permanent resettlement of the asylums seekers. Nauru lacks long-range solutions, but has planned for temporary settlement of refugees in Cambodia. Resettlement to Cambodia costs $10 million per refugee. Many refugees in Australian islands such as Manus are abused by the workers at detention centers, including children.  The purpose of the constant torture of the asylum seekers is so they are so broken down that they can’t make decisions, Higgins said. There is substantial support in Australia for the harsh policies toward those who arrive illegally by boat, amid fears of terrorism. Demonizing rhetoric toward asylum seekers is bipartisan in Australia, despite past acceptance toward Indochinese refugees.

     

     

    The Americas

     

    Everard Meade, PHD Director of the Trans-Border Institute at the University of San Diego, discussed the United States. He predicts that asylum rates for people fleeing parts of Central America and Mexico will go up. Foreign policy plays a role in how many of the numerous seekers may be granted asylum, but the border has gotten out of control. There has been a dramatic change in the number of immigrant children coming to America. Since 2005, the number of children from Mexico has been extremely high. The number of unaccompanied kids from Central America seeking asylum are now up sharply along with Border Patrol apprehensions; domestic politics, fear of racial and and cultural integration all play a role in restrictive policies. After 2003 when Home Land Security was created, many kids who were victim of gangs of Central America seeking asylum in the U.S. were considered part of the gangs and deported, creating a circular immigration system. These are some of the oldest racial tropes in the U.S. history. This isn’t new and has been going on for a long time.

     

    Karen Masala, Professor of law at UC Hastings, discussed externalization of borders in the U.S., race, and how issues that don’t have to do with international norms really do control of policy. U.S. has been narrowing protection of refugees for 30 years, since the Refugee Act took effect. Prevention of access of territory is common, such as when Haitian dictator Jean-Claude Duvelier agreed with Reagan to intercept the Haitian refugees. From 1981 to 1991 over 20,000 refugees were returned without their consent. High number of Haitians had a credible fear to apply for asylum , but they were brought to Guantanamo Bay. President Bill Clinton campaigned on a pledge of helping the Haitians but after winning election, did the opposite and turned them away.

    .



    Middle East

     

    When discussing Middle East asylum seeking, Rawan Arar, PhD student in sociology at UC San Diego, talked about her experience visiting Jordan to find out what was going in the refugee camps this past summer. There are 630,000 Syrian refugees in Jordan. Once Syrians started coming, Iraqis started to get less support in Jordan  Arar asks,  how do major refugee states maintain their sovereignty? At the Zaa’tari Refugee Camp, Arar partnered with Save the Children but she didn’t get access until she was right there at the border of the camp.  She only got in because there was no talk of who was in the car. She said the toilet areas broken down and they used bricks to improve their homes. Zaa’tari had protests of conditions by about 7,000 people. They pushed back in the ways in which they were controlled. Some people could even run away. She then visited the Azraq Refugee Camp. In many places people lived without cars so most could not run away.  At Azraq she saw more monitoring either with cameras or with people on the ground She said there was something really depressing about going into the refugee camp knowing that more people would be coming in. It was so hot and people were lined up in the shade, up to 30,000 people.

     

    There were 80,000 people in the Emirati refugee camp. They had access to a refrigerator or air conditioned room. She saw hair dye, soap, and condoms in the shop. Each refugee refugees a small amount of currency to spend.

     

    The reality is that 85 percent of Syrian refugees live outside these camps. Access to food, water, education, and health care is guaranteed in these camps, but not if you are living outside the camps. Save the Children is renting rooms and creating a similar curriculum to the Ministry of Education to teach the Syrian children. Overall, the refugee camp is a secondary border. Camps help to control migrations because they are highly secured, with obstacles to leaving the camps. But sometimes the camps have been so difficult that despite hardships outside, some refugees leave and return to the war-torn places they came from rather than remain in limbo, with no promise of a better future or countries willing to take them in.  Arar concludes, “Citizenship is the language of rights.”

























     

     



















     


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    By Miriam Raftery

    March 16, 2016 (San Diego’s East County ) – The House of Representatives this week has passed two measures aimed at holding ISIS and the Syrian regime accountable for atrocities committed in the Middle East. One would declare atrocities by ISIS to be war crimes, the other calls for a war crimes tribunal to address Syrian actions.

    The first, House Concurrent Resolution 75, passed Congress unanimously with all five San Diego members voting in favor.  It calls on the President to declare crimes perpetrated against Christians, Yazidis and other religious minorities to be war crimes and crimes against humanity.  Author Jeff Fortenberry (R-Neb.) has called ISIS a “threat against civilization itself.”  ISIS, also known as ISIL or the Islamic State, has been documented engaging in torture, beheadings, enslavement of children and other atrocities.

    The second measure, House Concurrent Resolution 121, asks the President to direct his ambassador at the United Nations to promote establishment of a war crimes tribunal to prosecute war crimes committed by the government of Syria, its allies, and other parties to the conflict.  HCR 121 passed by a 392-3 vote.  Among San Diego’s delegation, Republicans Duncan Hunter and Darrell Issa voted for the measure, along with Democrats Susan Davis and Juan Vargas. Democrat Scott Peters was not present.


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    Upcoming Sunday Education:

    June 4, 2015 (Poway) Sunday, June 7 and 28, at 9 a.m., St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church in Poway will host an Education Summit.  Nationally-recognized global humanitarian Mark Arabo will share details of the urgent circumstances in Iraq and neighboring Syria. He will provide insights into how we may be able to help our fellow Christians in the part of the world where Christianity was born. The theme of Arabo’s speech will be “Persecution of Christians in the Middle East.”

    Where:

    St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church

    16275 Pomerado Road

    Poway, CA 92064


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    June 27, 2015 (San Diego)--Congressman Juan Vargas and Mark Arabo will be featured in an hour-long special, “Crossing Jordan—Escape from Terror” on Fox News detailing their work  to help facilitate safe passage for religious minorities out of Iraq and Syria, and to secure their freedom.

    The program anchored by Bret Baier premiered Friday night and will air again on Saturday, June 27 at 5 p.m. Pacific Standard Time and on Sunday, June 28 at 6 p.m. Pacific Standard time.

    “It is sure to be a great special and it is incredibly relevant to the border issues we face here in the United States. Also, the San Diego connection makes this story that much more important,” Arabo says.

    Here is a description of the program from Fox: “Jordan’s King Abdullah gives Fox News Reporting unprecedented access to his life and country. Go on patrol with the Jordanian military at the front lines with ISIS and the Syrian regime.  Hear the heartrending stories of Christians and Muslims fleeing torture, massacre and chemical weapons.  And in an exclusive Fox News investigation, learn for the first time about a modern-day underground railroad delivering persecuted Christians into America.  Right now, King Abdullah is fighting two wars at once, both for religious tolerance—will he fight on alone, or will America stand up as well?”


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    October 10, 2015 (San Diego’s East County)--Militants with ISIS, the Islamic State, have released a video that appears to show executions of three Assyrian Christian hostages captured  in Syria in February, the Guardian reports. The terrorists are threatening to kill 200 more hostages, including women and children, unless hefty ransoms are paid for each prisoner, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

    Assyrian and Chaldean Christians have faced genocide at the hands of ISIS for refusing to convert to Islam. International leaders are urging President Barack Obama and Congress to take action, but thus far those please seem to have fallen on deaf ears.

    Locally, Mark Arabo, a leader in the Chaldean community, issued this statement. “"It breaks my heart to see the continuous bloodshed, and the constant persecution of Christians by ISIS. Scholars, journalists, and the American public are in consensus that more must be done to end this genocide. Yet, our government continues to remain inactive. Every video is yet another reminder of the victims our government has left to rot in Iraq and Syria.”

    The Assyrian International News Agency reports, “During the three-day assault on Christian villages in Syria in which the men were kidnapped, churches were burned to the ground and hundreds of Christians were taken hostage. In August another 250 Syriac Orthodox and Syriac Catholic families were captured. Those who have escaped tell of the 'schools of death' to which they were sent, where men are executed and women and girls turned into sex slaves if they refuse to convert to Islam.”

    Thousands have fled, creating a refugee crisis unmatched since World War II, but many others have stayed in their homelands, where they face potential extermination.

    A month ago, a resolution was introduced into Congress, House Concurrent Resolution. 75, calling upon US lawmakers to officially recognize crimes by ISIS against minorities as 'genocide.' Pope Francis has urged the United Nations to come to the protection of these vulnerable communities.

    This week over 100 religious leaders, scholars of genocide, and human rights advocates entreated President Obama to protect Christians and other religious minorities with a declaration of genocide, which would allow the legal weight of the international community to hold perpetrators accountable, while also expanding asylum and relief efforts.

    In Defense of Christians Executive Director Kirsten Evans issued a statement, which includes the following:

    "Swift moral leadership is needed at all levels of the international community. The international community can no longer drag its feet while ancient and peaceful communities in the Middle East face an existential crisis of genocidal proportion. "IDC joins its voice with other organizations, human rights advocates, religious leaders, lawmakers, and people of good will in calling upon the United States government and the international community to act to defend the defenseless."It is time to Stop the Christian Genocide."

     


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    Update Nov. 20, 2015:  Here is how San Diego's Congressional members voted:  Representatives Duncan Hunter, Scott Peters and Darrell Issa voted for banning refugees from Iraq and Syria, while Representatives Juan Vargas and Susan Davis voted against the broad-based ban.

    East County News Service

    Photo: Iraqi Christians in El Cajon at a 2014 rally pleaded for help to save persecuted Christians in Iraq

    November 19,2015 (San Diego’s East County) –The House of Representatives has passed a bill to suspend admission of refugees from both Syria and Iraq into the U.S., until national security agencies certify that they pose no security risk.

    The measure passed by 289 to 137, a wide enough majority to override President Barack Obama’s threatened veto, with 47 Democrats joining Republicans to push the bill through.  But Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid has pledged to block the bill in the Senate.

    House Speaker Paul Ryan said “national security is at stake.”  But FBI Director James Comey reportedly voiced concerns that the bill could make it impossible to admit any refugees and even restrict travelers from three dozen countries currently allowed entry under a visa waiver program, CNN reports.

    Meanwhile some Senate Democrats are backing two alternative measures.  One would ban people who have been to Syria or Iraq in the past five years from entering  the  U.S. using the visa waiver program, which currently admits 20,000 people a year—far more than the refugee program, with far less security screening.  The second bill would prohibit people on a terrorism watch list from buying guns or explosives.

    Here in San Diego, home to many refugees from the Middle East,  reactions to the efforts to crack down on refugee resettlement here has been strong.

    David Murphy is the executive director of the International Rescue Committee San Diego program.  He called the House measure “pure political pandering,” adding that it is “particularly shameful for Democrats not to stand by the President when he puts out a statement of policy declaring he will veto the GOP bill.” 

    Murphy notes that other bills would restrict funding for refugee resettlement. Murphy asks”Why are they focused on tearing down humanitarian protections for the victims of ISIS, rather than focusing on how to combat ISIS and end the war in Syria?”

    The House measure would ban all refugees from Iraq and Syria, including Chaldeans and other Christians.  East County is home to some 40,000 or more Chaldean and Assyrian Christians from the region.

    Mark Arabo, a leader in the Iraqi Christian community locally and nationally, issued a statement earlier this week after numerous governors sought to deny entry to refugees from the Middle East.

    "Our national security is of the utmost importance, and takes precedent over any potential refugees that may seek the United States,” Arabo said. “Admitting this large number of refugees is difficult, we are left with two options. Accept refugees only after thorough background checks or fix the countries in which they came from. Both options are viable but come with a different level of sacrifice.” But he concludes, “We cannot turn our backs on Christians and other religious minorities that seek the refuge of the US. It is our moral obligation to grant them the safety they deserve, but only after comprehensive individualized inspection.”  He voiced hope that admission of refugees would be granted “after the fog of the war on terrorism has passed. ”

    The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee issued this statement:  "The effect of this bill is to block refugees from coming to the U.S. by creating more hurdles to an already stringent process. The U.S. already has a vigorous 18-24 month vetting process for refuges. If it becomes law, this bill would require the most stringent vetting ever for refugees. It would require the nation’s three top security officials — the Homeland Security secretary, FBI director and national intelligence director — to certify to Congress that each individual Syrian or Iraqi refugee is not a security threat before the refugee can be admitted into the U.S."

     

     


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    By Victiashea Matthews

     

    December 30, 2015 (La Jolla)  - The Center for Comparative Immigration Studies (CCIS) and Eleanor Roosevelt College at the University of California, San Diego hosted an event called the “Comparative Responses to Asylum Seeking in Europe, Australia, the U.S., and Middle East” on November 30th,  

     

    What drives international migration?  Why are some countries more hostile and others more accepting?  Those are some of the compelling questions posed by David FitzGerald, Co-Director of CCIS and Professor of Sociology. These are fascinating questions to consider when unpacking the asylum-seeking diaspora. Here are some highlights from the event.

     

    European Union

     

    The first group of experts focused primarily on the European experience of asylum seeking.  Philippe De Bruycker from Universite Libre de Bruxelles explained the many facets of asylum seeking.  It is a moral and religious crisis, considering that some European leaders want their societies to remain Christian by refusing to welcome Muslim refugees, but the Bible says, “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God” Ephesians, 2:19). It’s an institutional crisis considering how the European Council decision to relocate 40,000 persons within the European Union (EU)  was accompanied by a  resolution from the state governments of  the European Council. It’s an international crisis considering how many countries are willing--or not willing--to accept refugees. It’s an operational crisis in that the EU is unable to establish minimum reception conditions on Greek Islands, for example.It’s a political crisis in that there is a lack of internal solidarity and the EU more divided than ever in terms of asylum seeking. It’s a security issue due to concerns of terrorists  hiding among refugees entering the EU through Greece.

     

    Eastern Europe

    Raphi Rechitsky, a visiting scholar at the Center for Comparative Studies,spoke next on the Ukraine and forced migration at the Eastern borders of Europe, which has incentivized new programs that will harden and sometimes militarize the border. In 1998-2003 and even up to 2008, the EU worked with international partners and built houses for migrants. Rechitsky pointed out that the refugee label is socially constructed through an international mechanism of powerful immigration states that try to externalize, especially when powerful states are threatened.

     

    Australia

     

    The next focus point was Australia as Claire Higgins, a Research Associate at the Andrew and Renata Kaldor Centre for International Refugee Law, discussed Australian reactions towards asylum seekers. Australia has among the world’s most restrictive policies towards refugees. Refugees from Syrians and Iraqis were often returned. Tens of thousands of asylum seekers haved arrived by boat, at a high cost for Australia to process. Australia imposed a “No Way” campaign, stating “You will not make Australia home” and  does not allow  asylum seekers admittance to Australia. Neither Nauru nor New Guinea has agreed to permanent resettlement of the asylums seekers. Nauru lacks long-range solutions, but has planned for temporary settlement of refugees in Cambodia. Resettlement to Cambodia costs $10 million per refugee. Many refugees in Australian islands such as Manus are abused by the workers at detention centers, including children.  The purpose of the constant torture of the asylum seekers is so they are so broken down that they can’t make decisions, Higgins said. There is substantial support in Australia for the harsh policies toward those who arrive illegally by boat, amid fears of terrorism. Demonizing rhetoric toward asylum seekers is bipartisan in Australia, despite past acceptance toward Indochinese refugees.

     

     

    The Americas

     

    Everard Meade, PHD Director of the Trans-Border Institute at the University of San Diego, discussed the United States. He predicts that asylum rates for people fleeing parts of Central America and Mexico will go up. Foreign policy plays a role in how many of the numerous seekers may be granted asylum, but the border has gotten out of control. There has been a dramatic change in the number of immigrant children coming to America. Since 2005, the number of children from Mexico has been extremely high. The number of unaccompanied kids from Central America seeking asylum are now up sharply along with Border Patrol apprehensions; domestic politics, fear of racial and and cultural integration all play a role in restrictive policies. After 2003 when Home Land Security was created, many kids who were victim of gangs of Central America seeking asylum in the U.S. were considered part of the gangs and deported, creating a circular immigration system. These are some of the oldest racial tropes in the U.S. history. This isn’t new and has been going on for a long time.

     

    Karen Masala, Professor of law at UC Hastings, discussed externalization of borders in the U.S., race, and how issues that don’t have to do with international norms really do control of policy. U.S. has been narrowing protection of refugees for 30 years, since the Refugee Act took effect. Prevention of access of territory is common, such as when Haitian dictator Jean-Claude Duvelier agreed with Reagan to intercept the Haitian refugees. From 1981 to 1991 over 20,000 refugees were returned without their consent. High number of Haitians had a credible fear to apply for asylum , but they were brought to Guantanamo Bay. President Bill Clinton campaigned on a pledge of helping the Haitians but after winning election, did the opposite and turned them away.

    .



    Middle East

     

    When discussing Middle East asylum seeking, Rawan Arar, PhD student in sociology at UC San Diego, talked about her experience visiting Jordan to find out what was going in the refugee camps this past summer. There are 630,000 Syrian refugees in Jordan. Once Syrians started coming, Iraqis started to get less support in Jordan  Arar asks,  how do major refugee states maintain their sovereignty? At the Zaa’tari Refugee Camp, Arar partnered with Save the Children but she didn’t get access until she was right there at the border of the camp.  She only got in because there was no talk of who was in the car. She said the toilet areas broken down and they used bricks to improve their homes. Zaa’tari had protests of conditions by about 7,000 people. They pushed back in the ways in which they were controlled. Some people could even run away. She then visited the Azraq Refugee Camp. In many places people lived without cars so most could not run away.  At Azraq she saw more monitoring either with cameras or with people on the ground She said there was something really depressing about going into the refugee camp knowing that more people would be coming in. It was so hot and people were lined up in the shade, up to 30,000 people.

     

    There were 80,000 people in the Emirati refugee camp. They had access to a refrigerator or air conditioned room. She saw hair dye, soap, and condoms in the shop. Each refugee refugees a small amount of currency to spend.

     

    The reality is that 85 percent of Syrian refugees live outside these camps. Access to food, water, education, and health care is guaranteed in these camps, but not if you are living outside the camps. Save the Children is renting rooms and creating a similar curriculum to the Ministry of Education to teach the Syrian children. Overall, the refugee camp is a secondary border. Camps help to control migrations because they are highly secured, with obstacles to leaving the camps. But sometimes the camps have been so difficult that despite hardships outside, some refugees leave and return to the war-torn places they came from rather than remain in limbo, with no promise of a better future or countries willing to take them in.  Arar concludes, “Citizenship is the language of rights.”

























     

     



















     


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    By Miriam Raftery

    March 16, 2016 (San Diego’s East County ) – The House of Representatives this week has passed two measures aimed at holding ISIS and the Syrian regime accountable for atrocities committed in the Middle East. One would declare atrocities by ISIS to be war crimes, the other calls for a war crimes tribunal to address Syrian actions.

    The first, House Concurrent Resolution 75, passed Congress unanimously with all five San Diego members voting in favor.  It calls on the President to declare crimes perpetrated against Christians, Yazidis and other religious minorities to be war crimes and crimes against humanity.  Author Jeff Fortenberry (R-Neb.) has called ISIS a “threat against civilization itself.”  ISIS, also known as ISIL or the Islamic State, has been documented engaging in torture, beheadings, enslavement of children and other atrocities.

    The second measure, House Concurrent Resolution 121, asks the President to direct his ambassador at the United Nations to promote establishment of a war crimes tribunal to prosecute war crimes committed by the government of Syria, its allies, and other parties to the conflict.  HCR 121 passed by a 392-3 vote.  Among San Diego’s delegation, Republicans Duncan Hunter and Darrell Issa voted for the measure, along with Democrats Susan Davis and Juan Vargas. Democrat Scott Peters was not present.


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    By Rachel Williams

    February 5, 2017 (El Cajon) -- Falafel softly crackles and pops in the frying pan as the smell of tahini infuses the air at Cajon Terrace Apartments. While the kids practice their ABCs and numbers in their new living room, a Syrian husband and wife cook side by side.

    The Al Saleh family underwent extreme vetting to leave Jordan and escape Syrian soil. They were interrogated for 18 months, with intense background screenings and fingerprinting.

    Fatima Albazazi and Tamer Al-Saleh applied for asylum through the United Nations (UN) with their children: Aya, 9, Hassan, 8, Houssein, 6, and Ilaf, 3. After leaving their war-stricken country, they sought refuge in Jordan, where they lived for five years, only spending a month in a refugee camp.

    As the seasons changed from May to September, the intake of refugees rapidly increased. Roughly 200 families, about a thousand members in total, settled into San Diego’s neighborhoods, specifically El Cajon and City Heights. Upon arriving, these Syrian families are funneled into various motels. Some cases stayed as long as 50 days, while others resided for weeks at a time.

    “It was really hard on me. We stayed in the motel for about two weeks, and the motel was in pretty bad shape,” Tamer said.

    Tamer was shocked by San Diego’s cost of living, for San Diego has the highest number of refugees annually of any welcoming city. As they arrived, Alliance for African Assistance assigned the Al-Saleh family to Motel Morgan in City Heights.

    Resettlement agencies are too overwhelmed to aid in this portion of the assimilation process. Heart4Refugees was launched to fill this loophole. The organization has helped about 41 families in City Heights, and 130 plus in El Cajon. It’s a local branch of the Syrian Community Network (SCN) started by Bayanne Mihtar and Kinda Arzon.

    “It wasn’t like he chose to come to America. The U.S. chose the people to come here. So they didn’t choose to come here, they were chosen by the U.S., by the UN.,” Kinda Arzon, Vice President of Heart4Refugees, said.

    “Everybody wants to help. You know we all have a heart for refugees, and that’s how the name came up.”

    A man who was staying at the motel became fed-up one day, Arzon said, dragging his suitcases to the street curb, with tears streaming down his face. Rent affordability is the main concern for these families.

    “So we focused on the Syrians because the Syrians don’t have a program. You know, Chaldeans have a program. Iraqis have a program…They have people taking care of them. The Syrians didn’t have anything. And what we realized is that the resettlement agencies were overwhelmed. It’s not that they weren’t doing their job, but they’re just overwhelmed,” Arzon said.

    Mihtar put her interior design career on hold in September 2016 to fill in the gaps of these government funded resettlement agencies. While SCN was created in Chicago two years ago, Mihtar and Arzon launched the Syrian family adoption initiative on social media.

    “We just asked `What do you need?’” she said, “and we’ll make them a welcome list. Basically with each family, for instance El Cajon, we take their information. If they have a special needs person, if they’re receiving rental assistance, and anything they receive from us we check it off.”

    The process is relatively swift for potential adoptive families. It costs $19 for a background check, and the only requirement is consent on a confidentiality form. Heart4Refugees pairs families with similar interests and needs. Some individuals are eager to help, but can’t commit full-time. They can volunteer every other week, or meet only once to exchange necessary supplies.

    “But we prefer, obviously, an ongoing relationship, so they can assimilate. I know that one of the families that were adopted found a job through their adopted family, so that was incredible,” Mihtar said. “That’s our end goal is to try to get them jobs, maybe learn some English through this process, and just get them up on their feet quicker than they would without this program.”

    As the dust and glitter settled from New Years, Vaale Gafori felt compelled to respond to a Heart4Refugees Facebook post. She’s been friends with Arzon for a couple years now, and in 20 minutes of seeing her post that day, she adopted a family. The Al-Saleh family and Gafori were destined to be connected, Arzon said.

    “I've always done the whole adopt a family for Christmas. [You] buy them presents, you never see them. You don’t know if they really got it; you don’t know who’s behind it,” Gafori noted.

    “I've always done that, and it left me feeling kind of empty afterwards. So when she brought this up, and then said but you get to go and meet them, and be with them, I said that is the greatest thing!”

    Heart4Refugees has three dual language case managers, who can facilitate proper translation between both families. However, some participating families have successfully used Google Translate, or coordinated with other individuals to break down the language barrier.

    “I wanted to make a connection with the local San Diegans here and let them know about this, so through that people reached out to us. It was a success. They reached out to us and said, what can we do more? Can we adopt them for the holidays? And I said okay sure, let’s start that. Literally everything happened organically, and we said let’s just start an adopt a family program,” Arzon said.

     Arzon created a case management system using the app Trello, which is a virtual tool to stay organized. Here, lists are kept of specific household necessities, or special needs that each family requires. Gafori was determined to make them comfortable during the acclimation process. And by the click of an email, their dining room table, living room set and dresser was donated by Jerome’s, a local furniture company.

    “She’s very kind. She wants to help people. We love her. Even the kids love her, we just feel that she’s a very kind loving person who wants to help them,” Tamer said.

    In the last two months, the organization has donated $86,000 to 96 families through their rent supplement program. The government funded resettlement agency grants each family member a one-time subsidy of $1,125. This donation is supposed to support them for three months, Mihtar said, and it’s not enough, especially considering they’re supposed to payback the government for their airfare to America at the end of this time frame.

    “First thing he said to me is he wants a job. He wants to work. Before anything else, thank you for bringing me the stuff, I need a job. So he was really interested in doing that because I think he wants to support his family. It’s important to him,” Gafori said.

    As her friend, who is a professional interior designer, tied the knot in Italy, Gafori sent a congratulatory text. She quickly turned around and inquired about a job for the father of her recently adopted Syrian family. And 30 minutes later, her friend landed Tamer a tiling job.  The hiring manger picked him up the next morning for his first day.

     “So my big push for 2017 is to get them employed. I’d love to have like a job fair for them with hospitality, and some other kind of careers that don’t involve the language as much. I mean they want to learn the language. It’s just going to take some time,” Mihtar said.

    The Al Saleh family left Syria to give their children a chance for freedom. Gafori has been their angel in a life of darkness, they said, and she has become a true friend. While they left behind familiarities in the Middle East, their San Diego neighbors have generously donated money, a car and essential necessities, giving them a shot at a new life.

    “I think the important thing is to realize that they’re just people; the word `refugees’ doesn’t mean anything, it just means they’re people that came here that need a chance, and we need to help them,” Gafori said. “And she [Arzon] said the most beautiful thing: ‘Once they get a job, they’re no longer refugees.’”

    To adopt a Syrian refugee family visit http://www.hearts4refugees.org/.


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