- 1. Visit to Turkey: September 8 and 9, 2012. The office of the Prime Minister of Turkey RecepTayyip Erdogan, invited CFA to the first international conference on: The Arab Awakening and Peace in the Middle East: Muslim and Christian Prospective in Istanbul. CFA extended the invitation to other prominent members of the Chaldean community in Detroit. Fr. Sameem Balius, Pastor of Sacred Heart Chaldean Church, Ismat Karmo, Chairman of CASCA, and Martin Manna, President of the Chaldean American Chamber of Commerce, accompanied Joseph Kassab, Executive Director of the CFA.
Invitees to the conference included Muslim and Christian leaders, academicians, interfaith NGOs, experts, and community leaders. The conference aimed to promote co-existence and tolerance to establish a fair and peaceful order in the region and to bring together leaders from the Middle East and Turkey to closely interact and find answers to urgent questions regarding the Arab Spring and its impact on the minorities and refugees in the region.
The outcome was excellent – participants were enthusiastic and expressed views of how to work together, and how to maintain survival of minorities in the region.
Mr. Kassab briefly discussed with Prime Minister Erdogan and Foreign Minister of Turkey, Ahmet Davutoglu, the plight of Christians in Iraq after the war. It also provided an opportunity for the CFA to express its gratitude to Turkey for hosting our refugees, and to thank them for their protection and the monetary support provided — which we would like to see continued. At the end, CFA invited the Foreign Minister to visit Detroit.
A brief discussion on the plight of Iraqi Christians was also held with Amel Jumail, ex-president of Lebanon, His Beatitude Patriarch Theofilos III, Patraich of the Orthodox Church in Jerusalem, His Beatitude Patriarch Dinkha IV of the Assyrian Church and his bishops, and Bishop Leham of the Latin Church in Amman-Jordan. He also met with top Sunni and Shia of Iraq, Lebanese, Iranian, Libyan, Tunisian, Jordanian, Palestinian, Egyptian, Syrian, Yemenis, Bahrain, UAE, Kuwait, and Turkish religious and lay communities leaders and scholars.
During his stay in Istanbul, Mr. Kassab met with some Iraqi Christian refugee families in order to learn more about their living conditions and the state of their resettlement process. He also met with Msgr. François Yakan, Vicar General of the Chaldean Patriarchate in Turkey and the spiritual leader of KADER, a Chaldean Turkish Humanitarian Organization based in Istanbul to discuss the situation of the significantly increased numbers of Iraqi Christian refugees and their needs in Turkey. Three years ago, CFA managed to obtain a gift from the Turkish American Community in the amount of $100,000 which was fully dispersed to our refugees in Turkey with the help of KADER.
- 2. Visit to Iraq – Nineveh Plain and Kurdistan, Sept. 9 & 10, 2012.
Chaldean American delegation continued its trip to Iraq visiting our towns and villages in Nineveh Plain and Kurdistan where our people live. To learn more about the future of our people including the internally displaced and to discuss their plight in the area, the delegation first met with Mr. Jonson Saywish, Transportation Minister, a Christian member of the Kurdish Regional Government Cabinet followed by a meeting with Mr. Khalis Ishoua, one of the five Christian members of the Iraqi Parliament. Also, the delegation visited Archbishop Bashar Warda of the Erbil Diocese, and his vibrant projects from new church to school to Hospital and Medical School, and then visited and had lunch with a prominent Chaldean businessman at his plant near Telkaif.
The next day, the delegation met with the Prime Minister of Kurdistan, Nechirvan Barzani, followed by another meeting with Mr. Sarkis. Aghajan. Ex-Minister of Finance and Economy for KRG, to look into the plight of and future of our people in the area, their survival, their aspirations, as well as enhancing the relationship between people in the Diaspora and the Government of Kurdistan for the advancement of both. PM Barzani was invited to visit Detroit.
- 3. CFA Sponsored “An Evening of Honor and Remembrance to America’s Fallen Heroes in Iraq” on September 15, 2012: The CFA joined Military Families United, a nationwide non-profit organization to honor the fallen heroes who gave their lives in the battle in Iraq. It featured Kirk Lippold, retired US Navy Commander of the USS Cole that was attacked in Yemen. More than 150 officials and community leaders attended the evening reception at the Danny Kassab Estate in Rochester Hills, MI.
- 4. CFA Participated in the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) 2012 National Consultation Conference in Arlington, Virginia on September 19 and 20, 2012: Top officials of the State Department, Dept. of Homeland Security, Dept. of Health and Human Services, Refugee Resettlement Organizations, and grassroots community leaders gave their thoughts of the status of refugees worldwide and what the future looks like for immigrants and refugees. The conferenc focused on 3 major areas:
- Increasing refugee admission numbers,
- Security background check procedures,
- Looking into challenges facing refugees abroad and when they arrive to the US, especially in areas of integration, health care, transportation, employment, language, education, housing, and other social services.
CFA advocated in several meeting and forum discussions and through networking with the participating government officials for increased federal funding for refugee programs and for state of Michigan’s Resettlement and refugee servicing agencies, particularly the Chaldean-American organizations.
Regarding refugee admissions from all nations, thus far, 2012 has had the lowest admissions rate of previous years, reaching only 58,000 by end of the fiscal year, not meeting the ceiling of 70,000. However, those coming from the near east, including Iraq, the number will reach as committed to 35,000. By the end of the 4th quarter of this year, 8500 are expected to be admitted, the majority from Iraq, with strong arrivals in Nov and Dec.
Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM) representative said P-2 Program (admitting Iraqi immigration petition beneficiaries as refugees, due to a US humanitarian concern for minorities in Iraq), will continue to increase admission numbers; however, the P-2 Program is expected to wind down next year. In that event, and if harsh conditions persist in Iraq, the CFA needs to advocate to revitalize the P-2 Program.
PRM representative indicated there are no U.S. missions in Syria due to volatile conditions, thus creating challenges, and having some cases transferred to Rumania and other processing centers for resettlement. This has resulted in an increased flow of Iraqi and Syrian refugees admitted into Turkey and Lebanon.
Coinciding with PRM, the DHS rep stated that training of cultural background for adjudicating officers is on the increase, and will result in more officers visiting the region for refugee interviews in order to expedite the process.
The thousands of Iraqi refugee cases waiting for security background approval that were backlogged from Iraq and surrounding countries has been worked on and on the way to clearance.
- 5. Legislative Advocacy Day. September 20, 2012: Mr. Kassab scouted Capitol Hill, visited and had thorough discussions with several Michigan legislators and their aids, including Sandy Levin, Gary Peters, Candice Miller and Carl Levin. The purpose was to highlight the importance of more programs for the Chaldean refugees’ needs in Michigan, and the plight of our people in Iraq. He also had a brief discussion with Felicia Escobar, Domestic Senior Policy Advisor at the White House, to discuss issues related to Iraqi refugee admissions and to request additional programs for Iraqi Christians arriving in the US, and how to help the grassroots organizations better assist them.
- 6. White House Invitation on the Syria Crisis, September 28, 2012: Mr. Kassab invited to meet with the USAID Administrator regarding the refugee influx to neighbring countries from Syria. The consultation meeting with Dr. Rajiv Shah, USAID Administrator, will discuss the humanitarian crisis in Syria and how to alleviate the suffering of the Syrian and Iraqi refugees.