Don’t offer Iraqi Christians visas, help them, says BMS World Mission trustee Nabil Costa. The West should be helping Christians to stay in the Middle East, not offering them visas to escape, says BMS trustee Nabil Costa.
Nabil, who is Executive Director of BMS partner the Lebanese Society for Education and Social Development (LSESD), is calling on Christians in the West to not only pray for the situation but also to lobby their governments to “empower the Christian presence in the Middle East” following the advance of militant group Islamic State of Iraq and al-Shams (ISIS) in Iraq and Syria. He is totally against the recent offer of some European and Western governments to offer visas for Iraqi Christians.
“We want the Christians in the West to lobby for us to live here in peace,” Nabil says. “In America the Christians should voice it to those in Congress, and the Congress should help in this. In your country [Christians should lobby] the House of Commons and Lords. You should speak loudly through your ambassador [in Lebanon] that we want to stay here.
“The Middle East is our land,” Nabil adds. “Bethlehem is our land. Jesus was born here. These are the lands which Jesus visited: Damascus, Palestine, Lebanon, Jordan. You do not help us as the West when you give us visas to emigrate. We don’t want to emigrate. We want your power to help us to stay here.”
The recent humanitarian relief to those fleeing ISIS in Iraq is to be commended but is only short term, Nabil believes. He anticipates that unless Christians and other religious minorities are returned to their homes, it could turn into another Palestinian situation where they become long-term refugees.
(Photos: Iraqi refugees have recently arrived in the Chaldean diocese of Beirut. Photos courtesy of LSESD)
“In the long run we need to help Iraqis stay in Iraq,” Nabil says. “The Iraqis that left Mosul need to go back to Mosul, Christians that are leaving Syria need to go back to Syria. You need to help them go back to their countries.”
The impact of ISIS is starting to affect life in Lebanon. On 2 August, the north east Lebanese border town of Aarsal was attacked by ISIS fighters following the arrest of a militant who has been linked to both ISIS and al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria, Al-Nusra Front. ISIS had temporary control of the town but, after five days of fighting against the Lebanese army, they retreated back to Syria with some captured soldiers and members of the Lebanese internal security force, whom they are still holding hostage. The fighting left 18 Lebanese soldiers, 60 militants and 42 civilians dead and over 400 civilians injured.
Thousands of Iraqi Christian refugees are also arriving in Lebanon after escaping the north of Iraq when ISIS invaded and threatened to kill them if they did not convert to Islam. Nabil says around 7,000 are now in the country. LSESD are assessing where they are and what their needs are before they respond with aid. Churches, monasteries and even mosques are currently helping the refugees. That Muslims are helping Iraqi Christians, Nabil says, shows what the majority of Muslims are like in Lebanon, in complete contrast to ISIS and other extremists.
“The majority are peace-seekers, whether they are Sunni or Shia. We live with them and we have very good relationships with them,” Nabil says. “The Sunni extremists do not represent the majority of Muslims.”