A project of the Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom to rescue Iraqi Christians from a Kurdistan refugee camp was successfully completed last week and will be the focus of an hour long special on ABC’s 20/20, airing Friday, December 18th, at 10 pm ET.
After ISIS stormed their towns in Nineveh Province and imposed its convert-or-die ultimatum last year, these Christians fled to the Mar Elia Church camp in Erbil. Aged between 2 months and 72 years, they include a former U.S. military translator, a dentist, a scientist, a lab technician, a mechanic, several farmers and small business owners. They have suffered severe losses and hardship and hold no hope of returning to their homes.
In summer 2015, Hudson Center for Religious Freedom director Nina Shea initiated a project at Hudson to resettle Iraq’s most vulnerable minorities in countries where they would have residency rights (denied them in Kurdistan), practice their religion freely, and be safe. On August 17, Chaldean Catholic priest Douglas Bazi, who operates the Mar Elia camp, met with Shea at her office and asked her help to resettle his refugees out of the region. Shea immediately agreed.
With the encouragement and support of Hollywood producer Mark Burnett, Hudson brought on as an advisor evangelical leader and author Johnnie Moore and contracted security expert Joseph Assad. For three months, the team carried out extensive research, vetting, planning, logistical support, advocacy and preparatory travel under this project.
During this period, Shea met with the Syriac Catholic Patriarch Younan, several other Iraqi bishops, Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vice President of Slovakia, and diplomats, legislators and officials from dozens of countries in North and South American, Western and Central Europe, Australia, Armenia, and Kurdistan, as well as those of the United States.
It was the small Central European country of Slovakia that finally agreed to accept the Iraqi Christians, after being urged to do so by a key Vatican official who is Slovakian. On December 10, the Hudson team took these Iraqi Christian refugees to Slovakia in a plane chartered by Mercury One, the charity of media personality Glenn Beck, supported with funds donated by thousands of American citizens.
“While the world is focused on Syrian refugees, we never forget that tens of thousands of vulnerable Iraqi Christians who’ve escaped ISIS remain stranded in camps in Kurdistan and throughout the region with dim prospects of ever returning home,” said Nina Shea. “We hope our efforts will prompt other countries – especially the United States – to take them in.”
Slovakia is the first country to accept a large group of displaced “IDP” Iraqi Christians who survived ISIS and are displaced inside Iraq. Four days after Slovakia opened its doors, on December 14, and after closely observing the Center’s project, the neighboring Czech Republic announced it too would admit Iraqi Christian IDPs, beginning in January.
The United States does not accept Iraqi Christian IDPs for resettlement. Last summer, the State Department had even withheld two-week tourist visas from some of the same Christian children evacuated through the Center project last week; they had been awarded scholarships by a New Hampshire sports camp.
(Hudson’s Center for Religious Freedom did not have editorial control over the 20/20 program.)
For media inquiries: Carolyn Stewart, (202)975-6456.