Chaldean News: A Sit Down With The Senator: One on One with Gary Peters
Late last month just before Christmas, U.S. Senator Gary Peters (D) requested an informal meeting with members of the Chaldean community. He wanted to hear what they had to say about the Presidential elections, the status of Iraq and what’s to come in the New Year. It was a listening night for the Senator. A group of members gathered at Shenandoah Country Club inside the board room for dinner and a discussion. The Chaldean News publishers posed their own questions to the Senator and we share them in this One on One!
Chaldean News: Why is it important for you to meet with the Chaldean Community tonight?
Senator Peters: It has been an honor and a privilege to represent the strong and vibrant Chaldean community in the Metro Detroit area. This is a community that emphasizes family and entrepreneurship. The civic engagement and contributions to the whole Detroit region are invaluable and the impact is apparent. I want to continue being a partner to the community in advancing our state, and I look forward to the discussions we’ll be having tonight.
CN: What does a Trump presidency mean to Iraqi Refugees?
SP: I have been deeply concerned with the heightened political rhetoric directed at refugees, particularly those from Syria and Iraq, who are fleeing ISIS. Michigan is home to a vibrant Arab American and Chaldean community, which includes some of the most patriotic individuals I know. It is important to remember our country was founded by immigrants, and refugees play an important role in economic development. One recent study found that agencies spent $4.8 million on resettlement, but refugees there had a $48 million economic impact. In Michigan, nearly one-third of startups established between 1990 and 2005 were founded by someone born outside the United States.
CN: What should we expect in 2017 in terms of U.S. impact or influence in Iraq?
SP: The U.S. goals in Iraq for 2017 remain continuing to strengthen the Iraqi Security Forces and to secure political stability and regional security. The Coalition to Counter ISIS has been working to clear liberated regions of bombs, mines, and other traps left behind as ISIS flees and providing this security will allow civilians to truly return home. The Coalition has also retaken 56% of the populated territory that ISIS had controlled in Iraq, but reclaiming the remaining ground will be a priority in 2017. As a member of the Homeland Security Committee and incoming member of the Armed Services Committee, I am extremely concerned with ISIS and continued instability in the Middle East. Last year, I traveled to Qatar, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Jordan and Iraq to discuss anti-ISIS efforts, and visited a refugee camp in Jordan. It was important to me to meet with our regional partners to discuss our mutual goals of fighting terrorism and extremism, and addressing the growing humanitarian crisis. I also had to the opportunity to meet with Iraqi leaders, including the Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, and I heard about efforts to train Iraqi units to help carry out the mission against ISIS on the ground. I support continuing these efforts to ensure that Iraqi forces are able to help in the fight against ISIS, as well as efforts to better integrate the Iraqi forces to include both Sunni and Shia fighters. I also met with Iraqi minority groups, including Christian leaders like Auxiliary Bishop Shlemon Warduni, where I heard firsthand about the plight of religious minorities. We must do more to protect religious minorities being persecuted by ISIS, which is why I wrote to the President emphasizing the need to also resettle refugees that are persecuted religious minorities from Iraq and Syria.
CN: Do you see ISIS being defeated in 2017 and Christians moving back into their Iraqi villages any time soon?
SP: ISIS is continuing to lose territory and is on the run. It is important that when ISIS is defeated, they stay defeated and are not allowed to resurface. The only way we can eliminate ISIS completely and permanently is by achieving a political solution in Syria, choking off ISIS’ sources of income, and continuing to build a global coalition against this global threat by increasing and expanding airstrikes that limit ISIS movements and prevents ISIS from gaining territory. When visiting Iraq, I met with some of the non-government organizations and some of the local Iraqis who are part of the reconciliation process in figuring how to bring Shia and Sunni Muslims and Christian together to live in peace. Additionally, Bishop Warduni emphasized to me that, ultimately, persecuted religious minorities want to go back to the Nineveh Plain and have an opportunity to live peacefully in their homes.
CN: How would you like to see Chaldeans involved in government?
SP: It is very important that the community stay active in civic engagement, as they have in the past. In March, I toured the new Chaldean Community Foundation facility in Sterling Heights, and I was very impressed with the commitment to helping refugees and immigrants — both Chaldean and non-Chaldean — in their adjustment to living in the United States.
CN: The Obama Administration has labeled the atrocities committed against Chaldeans and other minorities in Iraq a genocide. Why hasn’t the US Government given the community priority refugee status as it has with other minority communities in the past?
SP: Iraq and Syria are home to ancient civilizations and great religions. But they may lose this diversity forever if religious minorities are not protected. I’ve cosponsored a resolution expressing the sense of Congress that ISIS is committing genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes. The legislation additionally calls on the President to work with foreign governments and the UN to provide physical protection for religious minorities targeted by ISIS. The resolution calls for all parties of the UN Convention on Genocide, and all UN Members, to join the United States in an effort to investigate and prosecute ISIS for these crimes. Last year, I called on President Obama to emphasize resettling persecuted religious minorities from both Iraq and Syria when resettling refugees as a result of the conflict. The persecution these groups face is an important reminder of why closing our doors to refugees is counterproductive and damaging to our own national security.
CN: After the Liberation of Mosul, what can be done to provide safety to Chaldeans and other minorities in the Nineveh Plains?
SP: It is critical that the tragedy at Mount Sinjar and the atrocities we saw in northern Iraq never happen again. I have cosponsored a resolution expressing the sense of Congress that ISIS is committing genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes. The legislation also calls on the President to work with foreign governments and the UN to provide physical protection for religious minorities targeted by ISIS.
It is important that when ISIS is defeated,
they stay defeated and are not allowed to resurface.
– SENATOR GARY PETERS
I’ve also cosponsored the Protect and Preserve International Cultural Property Act, which was signed into law in May and would make it illegal to import or sell archaeological material from Syria since the start of the conflict. This is an important step to help preserve the rich culture and history of religious minorities in the region.
CN: Is the US Government in support of the creation of a new Province or Regional Government in the Nineveh Plains for Chaldeans and other minorities?
SP: It is critical that action is taken to ensure that persecuted religious minorities have intact a land that they are able to call home. While this will be a question for the new Trump administration, it is important that any province or regional government has popular support from the local population and the resources to be self-sustaining. These will be important questions the Senate should ask nominees for critical positions in the State Department.
CN: What actions is the US Government taking to help guarantee the rights of Christians and other minorities in the Iraqi and Kurdish Constitutions?
SP: ISIS has posed a threat to Christianity and all religious minorities in the Middle East. We must work with Arab allies, including Sunni governments and religious leaders and our Kurdish allies, to undermine ISIS’ twisted ideology. Iraqi leaders must form an inclusive government that provides representation and opportunity for all and reduces sectarian tension and violence. It is important that protections in the Iraqi and Kurdish Constitutions, as well as international law and human rights accords, are observed. The US has a critical role to play in ensuring these obligations are upheld. Last week, President Obama signed into law the Frank R. Wolf International Religious Freedom Act. Named for former Congressman Frank Wolf, who I served with and who chaired the Caucus on Religious Minorities in the Middle East, the bill modernizes the existing International Religious Freedom Act. It will account for the impact of sub-state actors such as ISIS and Boko Haram and their impact on religious freedom. It will also ensure the International Religious Freedom Office at the State Department has the staff required for its job and require Foreign Service Officers to receive training on the strategic value of international religious freedom. In Congress, I previously supported legislation which created a special envoy within the State Department to advocate on behalf of vulnerable religious minorities in the Middle East. Special Adviser Knox Thames has been serving in this role, and visited Michigan earlier this year to hear directly from the community.
Source: Chaldean News
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