Kerry was right to call out ISIS’ genocide. Now let’s help Yazidi and Christian refugees

Secretary of State John Kerry’s words Thursday could be harbingers of relief to the hundreds of thousands of Christians and Yazidis who have been marked for extermination by ISIS. “In my judgment, (ISIS) is responsible for genocide against groups in areas under its control,” he told a news conference.  

But words must be followed by action. Without doubt, current policy of degrading ISIS–not destroying the terrorists–will come too late for untold additional victims of their unspeakable barbarities. Clearly, a new coalition of the willing needs to be constituted to destroy the genocidal “Caliphate,” and to create safety zones for embattled minorities in Syria and Iraq.

We can do the most good for Christian refugees. They will be the easiest to integrate within American communities.

But there is something else the U.S. can do that won’t place one American soldier in harm’s way: place Yazidis and Christians from the region at the front of the immigration line to the U.S.

The remnants of historic Christian communities of the Middle East. Christians in Iraq and Syria have been suffering longer than other groups.

In a region strewn with desperate people, their situation is more desperate. Christians and Yazidis have long been targeted by Muslim groups – not only ISIS – for ethnic cleansing. Churches have been burned, priests arrested. In the worst cases, Christians have been tortured, raped and even crucified.

Mosul, which was home to a Christian population of 35,000 a decade ago, is now empty of Christians after an ISIS ultimatum that they either convert to Islam or be executed. 

In Syria, Gregoios III Laham, the Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarch of the Church of Antioch wrote that “entire villages…have been cleared of their Christian inhabitants.”

Unlike others, Middle East Christians have nowhere else to go, even if stability miraculously returns to the region. As a result of turmoil beyond their control, these Christians are the region’s ultimate homeless. Should some sort of peace ever return, the likelihood is that maps will be redrawn, carving up the pie between larger ethnic groups. There will be no place for Christians or Yazidis among hostile Muslim populations.

The animosity towards Christians in the Middle East is illustrated by a horrific incident off the coast of Italy. Last April, twelve Christian refugees who were attempting to cross the sea to Europe were thrown overboard by Muslim migrants onboard and drowned.

We can do the most good for Christian refugees. They will be the easiest to integrate within American communities.  For the most part, hundreds of thousands of Syrians who have reached Europe are young, male, and unskilled. Most know no European language, and have no experience with – and no leanings towards – Western cultures. European leaders now reluctantly admit that many of the new arrivals carry a good deal of anti-Western and anti-women baggage.

When the Obama administration that it would accept  additional refugees in 2015, the State Department provided a list of over 300 agencies in 190 locations that would assist on the local level.  Of those agencies, no less than 215 are Christian. It makes sense to play to the strengths of those agencies.

These refugees also represent a much smaller security challenge to U.S. authorities. Simply put, you will not find ISIS sleepers lurking among Christians or Yazidis.

Tragically, U.S. policy has not taken into account the uniquely precarious situation of displaced Christians. The State Department has accepted refugees primarily from lists prepared by the Office of the UN High Commissioner on Refugees (UNHCR), which oversees the large camps to which refugees have flocked, and where they are registered. Endangered Christians, however, don’t dare enter those camps.

Lord Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, said that a similar protocol in the UK “inadvertently discriminates against the very Christian communities most victimised by the inhuman butchers of the so-called Islamic State. Christians are not to be found in the UN camps, because they have been attacked and targeted by Islamists and driven from them.”

Rather than receiving priority treatment, Christians and Yazidis are profoundly disadvantaged by current rules.

U.S. missteps and missed opportunities in the region contributed to the crises in the region that disproportionately affected Christians and Yazidis.

The Secretary of State’s statement Thursday certainly came in response to a House resolution passed unanimously on Monday explicitly calling ISIS’s campaign against Christians “genocide.”

We all know the truth. Had America and its allies created safe zones in Syria, hundreds of thousands of Christians, Yazidis and Shiite Muslims might have lived.  

Our nation should therefore immediately open America’s doors to those people targeted by genocidal ISIS.

It’s the right thing for our nation to do.

Rabbi Abraham Cooper is associate Dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles. Follow the Simon Wiesenthal Center on Facebook and on Twitter.

Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein is Director of Interfaith Affairs for the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

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