WASHINGTON – A tragedy-laden Iraqi refugee pleaded Tuesday night to be reunited with her disabled husband whom she was forced to leave behind when she was granted asylum in the United States.
Julet Yousef, while living in Iraq, was kidnapped, beaten, and repeatedly raped because she is a Christian. Her captors released her after three months on the condition that she would convert to Islam, attend a mosque, and force her daughters to convert too. The family was forced to flee to Syria and then to Lebanon to escape the persecution.
But through the efforts of the Chaldean Assyrian Syriac Council of America (CASCA), which supports Assyrian/Chaldean/Syriac people in matters of public policy, she and her three young daughters were granted refuge in the United States in 2007, but her husband was not due to a United Nations policy.
"So I was forced to take my daughters and come to the United States, but I left my husband behind and he is suffering and he needs the help," an emotional Yousef said through an interpreter at the inauguration of the Caucus on Religious Minorities in the Middle East on Tuesday.
"I plead to all of you to help in bringing my husband so we can be reunited," she said, after mentioning that he had lost a leg in the Iran-Iraq war. "It is important that my husband can be with us together."
The new Caucus on Religious Minorities in the Middle East is a bipartisan Congressional Member Organization dedicated to serving as a hub for information on religious minorities in the Middle East, including the dwindling Christian population.
Yousef's story of persecution and leaving her homeland is in many ways similar to that of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi Christians.
It is estimated that Christians make up nearly 40 percent of the refugees fleeing Iraq, although they only make up three percent of the country's population. There are now about 600,000 Iraqi Christians left in Iraq, down from 1.2 million before the U.S.-led offensive in 2003.
In recent months, the persecution of Christians has increased, including the murder of Chaldean Archbishop of Mosul Paulus Faraj Rahho in February and a series of seven church attacks in January.
Since 2004, some 40 Christian churches and institutions have been bombed and 12 Christian clergy have been kidnapped or murdered since 2006. Of the 45 Chaldean priests in Baghdad, less than half remain and the others have been killed, kidnapped or have fled the country.
Several speakers at the Caucus highlighted that Iraqi Christians speak the language of Jesus, Aramaic, and trace their roots back to the early spread of Christianity.
Congresswoman Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.), the only Assyrian Christian in Congress, is co-chair of the Caucus on Religious Minorities in the Middle East.