Two Christian women from Qaraqosh, Iraq, who were forced to flee advancing Islamic State militants in Mosul, wait in front of tents outside St. Joseph Shrine near Irbil, Iraq, Sept. 10.

CNS PHOTO | MOHAMED MESSARA, EPA

Two Christian women from Qaraqosh, Iraq, who were forced to flee advancing Islamic State militants in Mosul, wait in front of tents outside St. Joseph Shrine near Irbil, Iraq, Sept. 10.

September 22, 2014
LASHA MORNINGSTAR
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER

Images of war-torn towns, broken bodies of children, starving Iraqi people flash through the daily newscasts, splash across the front pages of newspapers.

But there are those who know what these people are going through because they themselves fled the terror years ago and are now desperately trying to rescue relatives and friends left behind.

Zeina Pauls of St. Albert and her two children have been living in the safety of Canada for 15 years.

"I don't know how many relatives I have over there – 30 or more – in the north. But they are not safe. We are Christians, we do not fight."

What Pauls and other Iraqi people in Canada want is that the Canadian government allow their relatives to come to this country.

In 1999 the government of Canada agreed to accept 5,000 Kosovars under an emergency humanitarian evacuation program. They were granted refugee status on arrival. So the precedent has been set. Why not now?

The trouble facing the Iraqi people is they are not considered refugees by the United Nations until they leave their country. That of course is impossible because they have no money and no way to flee.

LIVING IN SCHOOLS, PARKS

Right now, the desperate people are caught up in the country's war-torn battles and hostility and are forced to live in schools and parks.

Canada's churches are welcoming and Archbishop Richard Smith has asked parishes to consider sponsoring refugee families "who need to come to Canada to escape the horror."

But the red tape of politics is imprisoning innocent people and keeping them from the welcoming safety of Canada.

Anna Mikhaiel of Edmonton has three cousins who have been tortured in Iraq. When threatened because one of them worked for an American company, they replied, "This is our land, this is our country."

"They could not show their faith, no cross: They had to pretend to be Muslim," says Mikhaiel.

One cousin became a singer and he was tortured and thrown into jail. Once released and threatened by ISIS, the cousins fled to Turkey. Sadly, they had to leave behind their aged parents who were too old to travel.

Still living in danger and unable to show their faith, the cousins wait to see if they can come to Canada.

Mikhaiel says some Iraqis have fled to Canada, "but they are mostly Muslims."

"What can I do?" she asks, her voice breaking. "I am praying but any Canadian door we knock on is closed. This is politics. What we are talking about is human life."

She says she will never stop praying but not just for her three cousins.

"It is for the other Christians. They are our family. They have no voice."

She and others supporting the Christians terrorized in Iraq will be donning T-shirts emblazoned with the words "Christians for Iraq" and handing out information pamphlets at Holy Family Parish in St. Albert on Sept. 21.

"We have to do something," says Mikhaiel.