When the war in Iraq began more than five years ago, the first people to flee the country were the Christians and many of them ended up in Syria.
“We have the majority of the refugees in our country,” said Syria’s ambassador to the United States, Imad Moustapha, to about 12 Chaldeans at a private dinner at Shenandoah Country Club last month.
Accompanied by his wife and toddler-aged daughter, Moustapha came to Michigan not only to meet with members of the Syrian community but to engage members of the Chaldean community and educate them further on the plight of the Iraqi refugees.
“It is truly sad that these Christians who are part of the historic fabric of Iraq may no longer exist in their homeland,” said Moustapha. “We are doing what we can to help them. They are our brothers and sisters and we cannot see them suffer.”
Saad Hajjar, past chair of the Chaldean American Chamber of Commerce, thanked the Ambassador for the compassion and support of the Syrian government and community. The ambassador humbly replied that no thanks were necessary because helping other in crisis has always been part of what Syria has done.
However, they can’t do it alone. “The United States government is spending billions of dollars on this war in Iraq and if they just spent one billion to help these displaced Iraqis they could make such a difference,” said Moustapha.
Monetary support by the United States to the refugees is not something Basil Bakal expects to see. Bakal, who recently returned from a trip to the Middle East to witness the situation first hand, quickly responded to the comments made by the ambassador. “The U.S. cannot offer financial help because that will mean they admit they failed in Iraq,” he said.
The Chaldean Federation of America (CFA), under the leadership of Michael George and with the volunteer efforts of Bakal, has spearheaded the Adopt-a-Refugee-Family program. Iraqis in the United States are lending their support with monetary donations from members of the Chaldean community at large.
Bakal explained to the ambassador the dedication Chaldeans have for their people. “Mr. George was born in the United States,” Bakal pointed out. “Yet he spends countless hours helping this refugee effort. These are our people. So many of us are dedicated to this effort.”
Moustapha explained briefly the critical needs. His fear is that if the refugees in Syria do not find direction and necessary help, they will end up in complete despair and could possibly be recruited by terrorists.
“We need to educate the children,” he said. “That is why they are attending school in Syria. We cannot leave them on the streets penniless with no education. That is the most important thing.”
A group of scholars from Iraq opened a university in Syria that is completely operated by Iraqis. “On one hand that is wonderful,” said Moustapha. “But on other hand, it is very sad that Iraq is losing its highly educated citizens. More than 80 percent of Iraq’s medical core has left Iraq. That country used to be known for its elite. My own father was educated at the University of Baghdad. Now, those people are fleeing the country.”
The refugees dispersed outside and inside of Iraq are also in desperate need of medical attention. Many are dying from the mere lack of treatment. “We are seeing so much death. We are see horrible things happening to these people” said Moustapha. “Iraqi women are turning to prostitution just to survive.”
Hajjar asked if Chaldeans wanting to invest in Syria to help the refugees would be welcomed by Syria’s business community. “Absolutely,” replied Moustapha. “Come into Syria and invest. We will do what we can to help you.”
The ambassador doesn’t believe the future of Iraq is promising. “Iraqi is losing its intellectual force, its educated people,” said Moustapha. “The prospect of a revival is unlikely.”
article by: Vanessa Denha-Garmo