“Christian refugees from the Middle East are not just casualties of war, they are victims of targeted persecution. They are fleeing war but, unlike many other refugees, they can never go back,” writes Angela Shanahan in The Australian (17 December 2016). “We are not just facing a huge geopolitical realignment in the Middle East but the expurgation of entire Christian populations in the area that gave birth to Christianity: Iraq and Syria, the ancient lands of Mesopotamia … Islamic fundamentalism is the cause of this.”
Ghassan is one such Christian who cannot go back. He, his wife Ruba and three children fled Hama in March 2014. He recalls, “Surrounded by the armed rebels and under the rain of rockets, we fled to Lebanon in March 2014. We had to leave Syria due to the horrific civil war taking place in our dear country. It was both emotionally and mentally distressing to abandon my home town to a place where I had to manage my family’s affairs in very difficult circumstances. We were firstly faced with the struggle to find a place to rent, fortunately, we had a relative who was able to help. Secondly, Lebanon, overall, was very expensive, food, water and gas for heating, therefore, we had to use all the money we had to survive. On the other hand, Syria was extremely dangerous to live in so there was no going back. The strenuous situation in Lebanon and the hazard of living in Syria led us to make the decision to apply for the Australian humanitarian visa via the Australian embassy in Beirut. Australia was our final hope of a safe and liveable place.
The historic Christian communities in the Middle East are facing genocide at the hands of murderous Islamists – Ghassan and his family are but a few of the fortunate ones: the Australian government granted them visas and Barnabas Aid covered their air fares. He comments, “We love our new country and wish that someday we are able to thank those who were the first to support us and taught us the important lesson in the human life that is to give love and do the good to others as per Christ's teachings. We pray to the Lord that he protects Barnabas Aid and its supporters.”
The Australian bemoans the fact that “Australia pursues a religiously ‘blind’ immigration and refugee policy”, which is fine in a secular society where religion is not considered. From November 2015 to December 2016, the Australian government granted 10,092 visas and 8,317 refugees arrived in the country; however, it is nigh on impossible to ascertain the religious make-up of these refugees as the government will not divulge the figures. Barnabas Aid can confirm that under the auspices of its Operations Safe Havens, by the end of 2016, 823 Christian refugees have been settled in Australia and a total of 1,071 worldwide.
Shanahan concludes, “Islamic fundamentalism is a scourge, even for Australia’s law-abiding Muslims,” and poses the question, “Can Australia afford to be religiously blind in its choice of immigrants and refugees?”