Thursday, Canadian government officials got a powerful glimpse into the ongoing crisis in Iraq and Syria.
Carl Hétu, the head of CNEWA’s Canada office, and Rev. Elias D. Mallon, CNEWA’s external affairs officer, were invited by the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development of the Canadian House of Commons to give testimony on the situation in Iraq and Syria. The testimony was part of a study “on the response of the Canadian government to the horrific violence, religious persecution and dislocation perpetrated in Iraq, Syria and the region by the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).”
Father Elias began by underlining the historical instability of the region and the artificial nature of many of the countries which were created by the French and British after World War I. As Father Elias explained, the authoritarian regimes which have held these countries together were, for any number of reasons, incapable of doing that any longer. He said that situation has created a vacuum in which the most violent elements can find space todevelop and further destabilize society.
Mr. Hétu spoke of the immense humanitarian crisis in the area. He outlined how CNEWA has been providing emergency relief to the hundreds of thousands of Christians who have been displaced, as well as to others who are suffering from the incredible violence in the region. Mr. Hétu explained where CNEWA raises its funds and how these funds are used for humanitarian relief in the region. Both men stressed that while the immediate needs were overwhelming, it would be a mistake to overlook the long term needs. All the aid in the world, they emphasized, cannot return the region to the status quo ante, the way things used to be. As Father Elias noted, a new, participatory and pluralistic society in the region must be encouraged and supported. The concepts of civil society, citizenship and participatory democracy have not developed in most places in the Middle East, he said, and this must occur if there is ever to be a peaceful, prosperous and sustainable Middle East.
“Only a society build on these principles,” Mr. Hétu added, “can guarantee full participation and protection of the small and vulnerable Chrisitan communities and others like the Yezidi.” This is the only place in our world, he noted, that has Suni, Shiite, Chrisitans, Druze, Jewish and many other groups in living close to one another. This diversity needs to be preserved, he said, if there is going to be peace.
CNEWA staff from the Middle East recently completed a visit to Iraqi refugees. You can read a full report of the situation on the ground at this link.
The needs remain great and urgent.