The Iraqi Oskar Schindler
ISIL's campaign into Western Iraq in 2014 displaced 2.2 million Iraqis. Despite hundreds of thousands fleeing the region to Europe, more than 90% of Iraqis are still internally displaced. This is due to the difficult geography and dangerous exit routes out of Iraq. The immediate difficulty Iraqis trying to leave the country face is obtaining a visa into the sole neighboring safe haven: Jordan. Iraq's neighbor to the south, Saudi Arabia, and neighbor to the East, Iran, do not accept refugees. This leaves Jordan to take on the burden of facilitating millions of Iraqi and Syrian refugees.Due to a Jordanian policy dating back to American occupation of Iraq, Jordan has "tolerated" Iraqi refugees as "guests". Thus, over time as numbers have grown, Jordan has made the visa process for Iraqi refugees more difficult. The Iraqis who try entering Jordan through the UNHCR's Refugee Status Determination Test, rarely make the cut. The test involves proving that they are actually fleeing real persecution. The test and examination of results takes months to process. Most do not pass the test and are stuck in Iraq with no prospects of escape. The few who do pass the test may enter Jordan, but are not allowed to work nor do they receive any welfare from the Jordanian government.However, one man has taken matters into his own hands in order to expedite the entry process for Iraqi refugees. Father Nour Al-Qusmasa, an Iraqi-born priest living in Jordan, reached an agreement with Jordan's King Abdullah in 2014, allowing al-Qusmasa to sponsor Iraqi refugees' entry into Jordan. There, refugees are helped by Caritas, an international Catholic charity. Father al-Qusmasa's efforts, by taking on this role of intermediary helping to pave the way for refugees, have saved over 2,200 people fleeing ISIS, according to the Economist.In Amman, St. Joseph's Catholic Church is one of fourteen churches across the country to take in these refugees, providing temporary food and shelter while families wait and pray for visas to come through. A recent Al-Jazeera article shares poignant photos that help put a human face on the refugee experience. The most striking is the sense of waiting, but, thanks to Father al-Qusmasa and support from the Catholic church, at least they are waiting in safety. (Photos and captions thanks to Kelly Lynn at Al-Jazeera.)
The current refugee crisis is biblical in scope. It has shattered records of previous numbers of displacement making 2015 the worst year for displaced people since World War II. 50 million are displaced according to conservative estimates. This invokes fear in Western countries across the world that believe embracing these refugees would mean welcoming terrorism into their countries. Far-right European political parties and 2016 Republican hopefuls have capitalized on this cheap fear in order to rouse nationalism and support.Whether it's a few thousand, tens of thousands, or hundreds of thousands; there is an incoming movement of refugees into America. A few Arab countries have already taken in millions of refugees. The European Union, namely Germany, has taken in hundreds of thousands. This is thanks to German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, leader of the Christian Democratic Union Party, and recently, Time's Person of the Year. The Chancellor set the standard for EU inclusion and has maintained the original liberal values of the EU. The philosophy of Willkommenskultur ("welcome culture") was proven when she declared that, "Nobody in Europe will be abandoned. Nobody in Europe will be excluded. Europe only succeeds if we work together". This was followed up by thousands of German volunteers greeting refugees with food, blankets, refuge, and smiles at the train station. Even after the horrific November attacks and Charlie Hedbo incident, Paris is taking in tens of thousands of refugees. A poignant example of France's multifaceted approach to ISIS by using soft power and hard power. However, there is still prevailing xenophobic rhetoric used by right-wingers, Euroskeptics, and American Republican presidential candidates. This will only foment fear, which could catalyze into internal conflict and racism between citizens and refugees. Worst of all, it will perpetuate ISIS's propaganda that the West despises Arabs (namely Muslims), and does not want them in their culture. Instead, ISIS urges Arabs to seek refuge and a stable life in the Islamic State. The fearmongering in the West will only prolong the war against ISIS by shooing away refugees and forcing them into the hands of ISIS.If we are to defeat the Islamic State, it will take more than airstrikes, train-and-supply missions, and diplomacy. We, the West, must give the disenfranchised of the Middle East and North Africa a reason to not join the Islamic State. Even if it is temporary "working guest" status, temporary resettlement, or permanent citizenship; our hospitality and welfare will demonstrate that we are not at war with Islam. Instead, we believe in the value of all life regardless of race or creed. The number of fighters and civilians living in the Islamic State will diminish if there is no support for their cause. To think that Arabs and Muslims inherently hate the West, and thus, naturally want to flock to the Islamic State only perpetuates the Islamic State's message.We should look to the example of Father Al-Qusmasa, Angela Merkel, Justin Trudeau, and others who are working to welcome refugees, rather than reacting with fear as ISIS wants. There are a number of organizations that are working to alleviate the crisis and making an impact. See our post on how to help refugees for more.