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Christian Syrian refugees have found temporary shelter in Jordan, but their immigration requests have been rejected by Western countries.
Some of them have spoken to the Associated Press, but want to remain anonymous for safety reasons.
One Syrian refugee said, “Everyone sold whatever they owned in Syria in order to get here, so that we could apply for visas at an embassy. We were all surprised to be rejected on the basis that there was no reason for us to go to Europe. Their reasons were all false – nothing correct in them.”
Another man said that western countries “were supposed to support us, and they were supposed to facilitate our immigration process as Christians, and I’m very sad that they haven’t.”
About 70 Syrian families, who fled the violence and civil war of their homeland, are staying in halls and extra rooms of an Assyrian church in the capital Amman. Though the families are receiving food, aid and money from the church, they say the living conditions are difficult and they do not have enough heat to keep warm. Christmas Day lacked the traditional happiness and joy one usually finds during the Holiday season “I can’t feel happy about Christmas while our country is bleeding,” one refugee said.
Another refugee said, “We are suffering a lot here. Our only celebration today was inside a church to pray to God to restore security and peace in Syria.” According to Jordanian officials, more than 1.3 million Syrian refugees have fled Syria since the beginning of the civil war.
Those that have not fled face threats to their safety from violence or even malnutrition.
The Syrian government has blockaded access to a rebel-occupied town called Moadamiyeh, threatening the livelihood of residents there.
Syrian officials say they will allow food into a military blocked town as long as the occupying rebels meet certain conditions – they must raise the Syrian national flag and surrender heavy weapons.
The rebels in Moadamiyeh agreed to the terms on Wednesday, and by Thursday the flag was flying.
The raising of the flag is a symbolic victory for the Syrian government under President Bashar Assad.
Though food is now allowed, the deal allows for limited daily entries only, ensuring that residents could be quickly blockaded again.
However, food deliveries have yet to arrive, because the Syrian government wants a military committee to seize the heavy weapons first. The truce additionally calls for the removal of anyone who is not a registered resident of Moadamiyeh, a condition likely to thin rebel ranks.
An opposition activist, nicknamed Qusai Zakarya for security reasons, said most of the town’s leaders were against the truce deal.
“But there are 8,000 hungry people here, and nobody helped us,” Zakarya said.
Rebels have held the town near Damascus and it has been under military blockade for months, not allowing food, fuel, or clean water to enter the town.
For the town’s 8,000 civilians malnutrition is a concern. Children and the elderly have already been badly affected with illnesses made worse from hunger. The Western-backed exiled opposition group, the Syrian Coalition, said the deal demonstrated how Assad’s government used “food as a tool of war.”
Another US citizen takes case against government after authorities fail to renew residency
A Canadian-American street evangelist left Istanbul on Saturday (Dec. 14) after Turkey’s Ministry of Interior repeatedly denied him a residence permit with no explanation.
David Byle, Chairman of the Bible Correspondence Course (BCC), has opened a court case against Turkey’s Ministry of Interior in an effort to remove his name from the country’s blacklist.
In the last three years, Byle, 44, has been arrested, taken to court, been denied entry to the country and threatened with deportation. He has also spent time in prison. But the final straw for him has been in the last two years when he has repeatedly been denied a residence permit without any explanation. (He has lived in Turkey since 1999).
Authorities refuse to explain why Byle is on their blacklist, but Byle says it is because of his Christian evangelism in Istanbul, where he and teams from the BCC gather crowds on the streets with the use of a sketch-board.
His lawyer has requested a written explanation from the authorities, who have stayed silent and advised that Byle apply for a visa from his home country. To that end, the US citizen flew to Chicago, leaving behind in their Istanbul home his wife, who is German, and their five children aged between eight and 14.
And this is not the last the Turkish government will hear of Byle. The court case he opened this week against the Ministry of Interior (in an effort to remove the restriction on his file) adds to another case launched four years ago.
In November 2009, when Byle was arrested after doing some open-air ‘street evangelism’ in Istanbul, Turkey’s Ministry of Interior accused him of “forceful missionary activity” and “disturbing the peace”.
Byle won in 2011, but the Ministry appealed. The case is stuck in a bureaucratic backlog, but Byle’s lawyers expect Turkey’s high court, Danistay, to consider it in 2014.
They say his case is important because it could set a precedent for other missionaries in Turkey. And if they do not win the case in Turkey, they plan to take it to the European Court of Human Rights.
Byle said he and his team from the BCC, which he helped gain official recognition as an association, have been taking to the streets to talk about Christianity for nearly eight years. The association’s Turkish name is officially “Association for the Propagation of the Bible”.
The BCC was approved by the Governate of Istanbul in 2009 and, as its title and mission statement, says its main purpose is to disseminate information about the Bible. Turkey’s Constitution states all people have the right to share their faith and it is a crime to stop someone from doing so.
“Even if David and the BCC’s methods are a little aggressive, theirs is an important service to our country and the Turkish church,” said Umut Sahin, member of the legal committee of Turkey’s Protestant Churches. “David and the BCC are in no way guilty before the law. David is innocent and does not deserve to be thrown out of the country.” Sahin is a Turkish convert to Christianity from Islam; Turkey has approximately 5,000 Turkish Protestant converts.
Member of the German Parliament, Frank Heinrich, has taken interest in Byle’s case and has written to the Turkish authorities on his behalf. Heinrich is also a member of the German Parliament’s Committee for Human Rights and Humanitarian Aid.
Heinrich told World Watch Monitor he was well aware that Byle has been working in Turkey as a non-profit volunteer for over a decade. (Byle and his family gain their living from donations from supporters in the US and Canada and he does not earn anything from the BCC).
“He has never breached any law,” Heinrich said. “Religious freedom is a positive right, and it includes sharing one’s faith. A democratic state with guaranteed religious freedom must allow people to share their faith.”
Continue reading at World Watch Monitor