By Bob Allen
A Lebanese Baptist leader says the West should be helping Christians to stay in the Middle East, not offering them visas to escape.
Nabil Costa, executive director of the Lebanese Society for Education and Social Development, opposes recent initiatives by European and Western governments to offer visas for Christians fleeing violence by Islamic militants in Syria and Iraq.
“We want the Christians in the West to lobby for us to live here in peace,” Costal told BMS World Mission.
“In America the Christians should voice it to those in Congress, and the Congress should help in this,” said Costa, a trustee of the mission organization founded in 1792 by William Carey, an English Baptist missionary known as the “father of modern missions.”
The government of Australia recently approved 4,400 humanitarian visas to resettle people fleeing violence in Iraq and Syria. Earlier this month 11 family members of a slain leader of the Chaldean Catholic Church fled Iraq to begin a new life in France.
Costa said short-term humanitarian relief to those fleeing ISIS in Iraq is to be commended, but he fears unless Christians and other religious minorities are returned to their homes, they will become long-term refugees similar to the exodus of Palestinian Christians from the Holy Land.
“In the long run we need to help Iraqis stay in Iraq,” Costa said. “The Iraqis that left Mosul need to go back to Mosul, Christians that are leaving Syria need to go back to Syria. You need to help them go back to their countries.”
Reuters reported that as of Aug. 29, 3 million Syrian refugees will have registered in neighboring countries, and nearly half of 6.5 million Syrians have been displaced by the advance of Islamic State forces.
Because of ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Christian population in the Holy Land has dwindled from over 10 percent prior to Israel’s founding in 1948 to about 2 percent. An estimated 80 percent of Palestinian Christians live abroad.
“The Middle East is our land,” Costa said. “Bethlehem is our land. Jesus was born here. These are the lands which Jesus visited: Damascus, Palestine, Lebanon, Jordan.”
“You do not help us as the West when you give us visas to emigrate,” he said. “We don’t want to emigrate. We want your power to help us to stay here.”