Thousands of Iraqi Christians Find Refuge in Lebanon

September 26, 2008

Author: Raphael Thelen

Source: The Daily Star

Hundred of thousand of Chaldean Christians have fled Iraq because of violent threats against their community, and thousands of those refugees have arrived in Lebanon during the last few years, searching for a better life or resettlement in other countries. "The situation of the Chaldean community in Iraq is very difficult. Many receive threats by Muslim fundamentalists and criminal gangs via telephone, get kidnapped or killed," Michel Kasdano , coordinator of the Chaldean church, told The Daily Star.

The Chaldean community has lived in Iraq since the time of Christ. Settling mostly in the northern districts, particularly around Mosul, their population is estimated to number around 1,300,000, but almost half of the minority Christian community has already fled Iraq in several waves over the last 50 years, leaving whole villages almost deserted. The exodus reached its peak in 2007.

The Chaldean Church in Beirut coordinates the work of various non-governmental organizations that are trying to help the displaced Chaldean community in Lebanon.

"When I started my job, the different NGOs almost competed to offer their help, so we called them together to manage the complementing efforts," Kasdano said.

These NGOs and volunteers from the Chaldean Church provide the incoming refugees with everything from food parcels and health care to blankets and housing.

"We always try to vary the provided help. This month every family receives two packs of milk powder extra," said Kasdano, who served as a general in the Lebanese Army until two years ago.

Most refugees arrive in Lebanon with only a few belongings packed in a suitcase, leaving almost everything else behind. The Lebanese government offers them a one-month visa, but most of them overstay the duration and their status becomes illegal, meaning that they face the threat of detention.

According to Kasdano, "The Christians of Iraq would do almost everything right now to leave the country; they do not feel safe anymore."