Assyrian Christians fleeing the Islamic State ISIS are now welcome to take refuge in Lebanon because their humanitarian case is exceptional, Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk said.
Machnouk, after discussing the matter with Prime Minister Tammam Salam and Social Affairs Minister Rashid Derbas, gave the order on Sunday to allow the inflow of Assyrian refugees from Syria, saying that “the case of the Assyrians fleeing massacres meets the “extreme humanitarian cases” exempted from the recent government policy to stop allowing refugees in,” reports said.
State Minister Nabil De Freij had been making efforts to facilitate the entry of Assyrian refugees, notifying the border control forces of the decision, adding that “nearly 5,000 Assyrians are expected to enter Lebanon, and they will stay with relatives or in homes provided by the church,” according to reports.
It’s noteworthy to mention that around 220 Assyrians were abducted from their homes by the Islamic State “IS” militants in northeastern Syria last week.
As a result, a sea of parishioners stood before their priest Sunday morning at the St. George’s Assyrian Church in Jdeideh, hands clasped in prayer for the lives of their kin whose fate in Syria was still uncertain. The priest presiding over Mass made an elegiac call for solidarity as members of the Syriac Union Party, a political entity representing Assyrians in Lebanon, stood outside the church gate collecting donations meant for families fleeing the carnage in northern Syria.
Women clad in black scarves flooded the aisles and embraced, their menfolk looking on. “God help them,” one cried.
“What is happening to our community is very painful,” said Father George Safar, the priest of the Jdeideh church.
“We are passing a difficult time,” Syriac Orthodox Bishop of Mount Lebanon and Tripoli George Saliba said. “They are part of our nation, and we are doing what we can for them.”
Hundreds of Assyrians marched in Downtown Beirut over the weekend in solidarity with their abducted brethren, chanting slogans in their native Aramaic and carrying signs that read: “Assyrians are the indigenous people of Mesopotamia,” “We demand action from the United Nations,” and “Save the Christians of the Middle East.”
The Assyrian presence in Lebanon was marked by two waves, first during the 1970s and after the 2011 Syrian uprising, according to community leaders. The exact population in Lebanon is undocumented, but formal estimates put the number between 30,000 and 50,000. Considered a minority in Lebanon, the community does not have formal representation in the Parliament, a reality the Syriac Union Party has been lobbying to change for years.
According to the president of the Syriac Union Party, Ibrahim Mrad, about 500 Assyrians arrived to Lebanon in recent days, entering either from the Masnaa border or the Abboudieh crossing in the north.
“When the kidnapping happened the community here were afraid for the safety of their loved ones, because we were hearing ISIS was using them as human shields,” he said.
The majority who fled Khabour have settled in Qamishli, near the Turkish border, and the city of Hassakeh, where fighting is at a minimum for the time being, Mrad said.
Kino, the nom du guerre of a senior member of the Syriac Military Council, the armed wing of the Syriac Union Party protecting Assyrian-populated areas in northeast Syria in cooperation with Kurdish forces, refugees would likely seek asylum in Iraq or Turkey, rather than in Lebanon, which is further away.
“Right now, ISIS controls the northern basin of the Khabour, and an advance to the city of Hassakeh is unlikely,” he said, describing the Feb. 23 attack on the town as a “surprise” which caught the Syriac militia unawares.
“Their numbers were too many,” he said.
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