Iraqi Mandaeans, having no safe enclave within Iraq, have fled their country in large numbers. They urgently need asylum in order to maintain their unique community.
The Honorable Condoleezza Rice
Secretary of State
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street, NW
Washington, D.C. 20520
Dear Secretary Rice,
We the undersigned are writing to request your kind assistance to the Mandaean community in Iraq and those Mandaeans living as refugees in other countries. As you may know, the Mandaean community in Iraq has dwindled from over 60,000 in the early 1990s to 4,000-5,000 today. Most of the community have either fled Iraq as refugees or have been killed in attacks by insurgents. We are grateful for the progress made by the UNHCR in interviewing and assessing Mandaean refugee cases in Jordan and Syria, but we remain concerned that cases referred to the U.S. program have not yet been processed. Meanwhile, the conditions in these countries of first refuge are overwhelmed and strained in resources and services.
The needs of all of the Iraqi refugees in Jordan and Syria are critical at this time. The Mandaean community also has certain special needs. Your assistance in facilitating State Department guidelines recognizing the plight and special status of Iraqi Mandaeans, as well as facilitating their prompt resettlement as a unified community, would be very much appreciated.
As you may know, the Mandaeans are a distinct ethno-religious minority that has resided in Iraq and Iran for centuries. The group is ethnically distinct from their Arab and Persian neighbors, and their religion is distinct from other monotheistic religions, as it follows the teachings of John the Baptist. Large numbers of Iranian Mandaeans have been resettled in the U.S.. However, the Iraqi Mandaeans primarily live in Baghdad, Basra, Umara, Nasiriha, and Kut. As a minority group living under Islamic rule, the Mandaeans have not received full recognition from Islamic clerics, despite being mentioned in the Quran as "People of the Book" along with Jews and Christians. Under the regime of Saddam Hussein, the Mandaeans were refused such recognition in the courts, and that "infidel" status remains in effect in today's Iraq.
Throughout the years, Mandaeans in Iraq have suffered numerous attacks and forced conversions at the hands of the majority, particularly as they are pacifists by religion and thus do not get involved in physical conflict. The dwindling number of the community in Iraq is a result of attacks from insurgents and armed militias including outright murder, rape, forced conversion, and forced displacement. In recent years, thousands of Mandaeans have fled Iraq, particularly to Syria, Jordan, and Yemen. Currently, there are approximately 2500 Mandaeans seeking refuge in Jordan and as many as 10,000 Mandaeans seeking refuge in Syria. Fifty individuals living in Yemen have been put on administrative "hold" awaiting resettlement to USA for the past five years.
The Mandaeans are the only Iraqi minority that has neither roots nor existence in areas other than Iraq. They are under real threat of extinction as a distinct ethno-religious group, if they are not gathered as a group in one country.
We are writing to request that the U.S. grant interviews to Mandaean refugees in Jordan, Syria and Yemen and institute appropriate resettlement programs. While plans exist to process 12,000 Iraqi refugees and resettle them in the U.S., that number should be expanded to include the Iraqi Mandaean community as an extremely vulnerable group.
As you may know, Iraqi Mandaeans have resettled in the U.S., and very few have ever sought or depended on government assistance programs for support. That community in the U.S. is very willing to sponsor their relatives for refugee processing or asylum proceedings, whichever would provide the more immediate resettlement.
Madam Secretary, there is an urgency to processing the Iraqi Mandaeans, as they are a distinct ethno-religious community that faces threats that could potentially eliminate their community altogether. The group needs and deserves, similar to the Iranian Mandaeans, permanent protection as a special vulnerable indigenous group from Iraq. U.S. leadership on the situation facing Mandaeans will assist UNHCR in better applying consistent adjudication standards in the various countries hosting Mandaeans as well as in finding human and durable solutions for those refugees who do not ultimately resettle here.
Thank you for your attention to this important matter. We look forward to hearing from you and working with you to assist the Mandaeans.
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