The protection of persecuted Christians (and other religious minorities) is not a top priority for the Canadian government. This jumped out at me when I attended the International Religious Freedom Summit recently hosted in Washington by the US Commission on International Religious Freedom.
Convened to “increase public awareness and political strength for international religious freedom,” the sold-out three-day event became a three-day think tank in action for rights organizations, religious leaders, victims religious persecution, high-level U.S. government officials, and international ambassadors. and ministers. They were there to present and listen to stories of religious oppression from Nigeria to Pakistan to China to the Middle East; also, to offer policy recommendations to governments around the world to protect victims of sectarian persecution.
United States Goodwill Ambassador for Religious Freedom Rashad Hussain was one of the guest speakers. There were high-level politicians from the United States and the United Kingdom, two countries that are committed to championing the cause of freedom of religion or belief, as specified in Article 18 of the Bill of Human Rights. United Nations man.
Unfortunately, Canada was missing. No high-level government officials were in sight.
Andrew Bennett, Canada’s former ambassador for international religious freedom, was a panelist at a breakout event on the religious dimension of the war in Ukraine, but not in an official capacity. The office was abolished by the Trudeau government in 2016. It was seen by many as a move that devalued religious freedom as an essential dimension of human rights and an important foreign policy tool for maintaining peace. and stability.
In contrast, Ambassador Hussain has an important advisory role and direct influence on US policy to advance and protect freedom of religion or belief around the world.
I have been asked to speak about the plight of Christians in the Middle East who survived genocide at the hands of ISIS, the violent extremist group that terrorized Christians and other religious minorities between 2004 and 2019, and continues his campaign of extermination despite the official defeat of the forces led by the United States. strengths in 2019.
I was happy to be the voice of vulnerable Christians who fled Iraq and Syria during the terrifying years of their countries’ occupation by ISIS and who are now trapped in Lebanon. It is a country where they have no citizenship status. They are denied the right to employment, health care or education, which puts them in an incredibly difficult situation.
I witnessed their deplorable living conditions in tiny, cramped apartments in Beirut, with no income or help for multiple health issues. They were totally dependent on charities such as ADFA, Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) and CNEWA (Catholic Middle East Agency) for their daily bread.
After living for so many years in Lebanon and watching the political scene in their home country deteriorate, most have lost hope of returning to reclaim their stolen homes and live in safety as free and equal citizens.
About 300 families held a rally on June 9 in Beirut, pleading with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to meet their demands for resettlement to a country like Canada where they can live in dignity instead of daily humiliation. Some have been waiting for more than seven years for a response from the UN.
Along with my fellow panelists, I shared their story in the breakout session hosted by the ADFA, hoping it would spur policymakers in Canada, the United States and UNHCR to action.
At the end of the three days, I felt that my trip to Washington had by no means been an exercise in futility. Nuri Kino, ADFA Executive Director Steve Oshana and I were invited to a private meeting with Ambassador Hussain. He listened carefully when we asked the US State Department to produce a report on whether the process of recovering homes stolen from Christians who fled Iraq and Syria was fair and just.
“We depend on civil society organizations like yours for our reports on what is happening on the ground,” he told us.
Canada must do more to protect Christian minorities and other faiths who are homeless and stateless. It must recognize that Christians are the most persecuted religious group in the world. At the very least, we can accept more Christian refugees.
(Korah is a writer in Ottawa.)