Christian Refugees Are Begging the West to Save Them From Persecution, Says Syrian Church Leader

Syriac Patriarch Ignatius Joseph III Younan has warned that the vast refugee crisis in Iraq and Syria has reached "biblical proportions," and fleeing Christians are begging Western countries to step up and save them from persecution at the hands of extremists.

(Photo: Reuters/Dimitris Michalakis)A Syrian refugee carries a young girl moments after arriving on a dinghy on the Greek island of Lesbos, September 10, 2015. Most of the people flooding into Europe are refugees fleeing violence and persecution in their home countries who have a legal right to seek asylum, the United Nations said on Tuesday.

"We are begging the West to stand for the rights of all citizens in Iraq and Syria," the spiritual leader of the world's 158,000 Syriac Catholics declared in a speech during a visit to Detroit, according to Catholic San Francisco.

"The situation is very devastating and tragic. For Iraq, this has been happening for two generations. For Syria, the war has been taking place for the last three years, with no hope on the horizon for Christians in the area."

Patriarch Younan focused on the various atrocities facing Christians across the region, from executions and forced conversions at the hands of the Islamic State terror group, to the destruction of churches, and trafficking of women and girls as sex slaves.

(Photo: Reuters/Omar Sanadiki)An Assyrian woman attends a mass in solidarity with the Assyrians abducted by Islamic State fighters in Syria earlier this week, inside Ibrahim al-Khalil church in Jaramana, eastern damascus March 1, 2015. Militants in northeast Syria are now estimated to have abducted at least 220 Assyrian Christians this week, a group monitoring the war reported.

"The crisis is evolving into more killings, more hostages and a struggle with no end in sight," he added. "We've been through these struggles for 14 months, since the fall of Mosul on June 10, 2014. Since then, all the Christian communities in northern Iraq have been wiped out."

Iraqi and Syrian Christians are among the millions of refugees who've fled the region and are looking for asylum in Western states. Younan argued, however, that the U.S. and other countries have played a significant role in creating this crisis, starting with the operations that brought down Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein in 2003.

"These nations must accept refugees. Surely, refuges are not the best way to solve the crisis. But if the world believes in freedom of movement and the right of immigration, then these countries must welcome the refugees from policies they helped create," Younan said.

He also noted that Christians have been at the center of Middle East civilization for millennia, and so far have survived "against all the odds." The spiritual leader insisted that now is the time, however, for "Western Christian brothers and sisters" to come to their aid.

Other church leaders in Syria, such as Metropolitan Jean-ClĂ©ment Jeanbart, of the Melkite Archdiocese of Aleppo, have warned that the ongoing exodus of Christians in the Middle East is both "apocalyptic and fatal."

Jeanbart said that the mass exodus of Christians is "a form of deportation, condemning our faithful to a humiliating exile and our 2,000-year-old Church to a deadly drying up."

Much like many other church leaders across Iraq and Syria, he also criticized the lack of help from Western governments, claiming they "appear to be either indifferent or unjust" to the plight of the refugees.

"What horrors must ISIS commit before the world will take greater action to stop the murderers?" Jeanbart asked in another speech earlier this year. "Syrian Christians are in grave danger; we may disappear soon."

Meanwhile the U.S.-led airstrikes effort against IS targets across Iraq and Syria continues, with CNN reporting on Wednesday that Russian officials have pledged that they will cooperate with Western states in the fight against terrorism in Syria.

Activists are accusing Russia of continuing to aid the government of President Bashar al-Assad in his civil war against rebel groups, however, which the U.S. has said further escalates the conflict in the region.