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Iraqi expatriates seek refugee status for Christians fleeing militants

Iraqi American activists want 'stateless' status for Christians fleeing violence in Iraq

A leader of the large Iraqi community in eastern San Diego County is scheduled Wednesday to help plead with United Nations officials to grant refugee status for Iraqi Christians fleeing the violence ravaging their home country.

Mark Arabo, a Chaldean Christian and executive of the El Cajon-based Neighborhood Market Assn., will be part of a group of secular and religious leaders who want the U.N. to designate the Iraqi Christians as "stateless persons" because of the violence aimed at them by Sunni militants.

Such a designation would speed up the immigration process, including to the United States.

"They don't expect their homes back, they just want to live," said Arabo, a Chaldean Christian and executive of the El Cajon-based Neighborhood Market Assn. "What we're facing is genocide."

The group, including Iraqi immigrants from California and Detroit, hopes to meet with the Turkish, Iraqi and U.S. ambassadors to the U.N. as well as a representative of U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

Arabo, 31, was a leader in petitioning the Obama administration to intervene to stop the slaughter of Christians at the hands of Islamic State militants.

"We sounded that alarm eight weeks ago," Arabo said. "We're going to see this all the way to the end."

Tens of thousands of Christians have fled to Irbil, the Kurdish capital now being protected by airstrikes authorized last week by President Obama. In Mosul, the center of a Christian community for centuries, Islamic State militants destroyed churches and confiscated homes of Christians.

"We need action," Arabo said. "Every hour more people are dying. Churches have been destroyed. Women are being raped."

Arabo's efforts are supported by Rep. Juan Vargas (D-San Diego).

"Given the imminent threats of death facing Christians and other religious minorities in Iraq, I absolutely believe our nation should grant refugee status to individuals fleeing persecution," Vargas said.

Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times
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