Cablegate: Chaldeans Leaving Iraq Through Istanbul
UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 ISTANBUL 000266
E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PHUM PREL TU
SUBJECT: CHALDEANS LEAVING IRAQ THROUGH ISTANBUL
1. (SBU) SUMMARY: A significant number of Chaldean-Iraqis
have left Iraq, and are currently taking refuge in Istanbul.
Estimates vary on the size of the group, with Turkey's de
facto Chaldean leader estimating 4,600, while Catholic relief
Charity Caritas thinks around 1,500 refugees may currently be
in Istanbul. Adverse conditions in Iraq and pressure from
other Iraqi ethnic groups appear to be the prime reason for
the exodus. The tiny local Chaldean community is overwhelmed
by the number of new refugees. END SUMMARY.
Chaldeans Seeking Refuge
2. (SBU) Poloff met January 21 with Fr. Francois Yakan,
Vicar-General of the Chaldeans of Turkey. Due to the fact
that the Chaldean Bishop of Turkey is very old and infirm,
Yakan is the de facto leader of Turkey's tiny Chaldean
community, constituting some 300 believers. Yakan believes
that there are currently 4,600 Chaldeans who have fled Iraq
and are living in Istanbul. Per Yakan, some are legally
present in Turkey, others arrived legally but have overstayed
their visa, and some illegally crossed into Turkey. Most of
these refugees are going to Canada and Australia, and a small
number to the United States. Yakan reports he was surprised
to find that, in addition to Arabic and Chaldean, most of
these refugees also speak English.
3. (SBU) Yakan said that Turkish Chaldeans find themselves in
a considerable bind because of the migration. With such a
tiny community, they have little to no means of assisting so
many of their fellow believers. Yakan himself has borrowed
money from relatives to assist the refugees, and says he
spends most of his time in the Istanbul Police Foreign
Citizen's Section. According to Yakan, Turkish police who
arrest a Chaldean in Turkey illegally are willing to release
the person to relatives or friends. If none can be found,
the detainee is returned to Iraq. Yakan assists the refugees
in filling out Turkish-language paperwork and finding
relatives in Turkey.
4. (SBU) Yakan's estimate of 4,600 refugees in Turkey may be
inflated. Francis Teoh at UNHCR-Ankara reports that they
have had very few claims to refugee status from Iraq since
the conflict began, and the number of those applying for
refugee status is approximately the same as prior to the
conflict. Teoh reports that the MFA has assured him that
there are no forcible deportations to Iraq. Since refugees
from Iraq can neither be resettled nor deported, their status
after application with UNHCR is "frozen." However, UNHCR can
provide applicants with letters indicating their refugee
status, which may be helpful if the refugees are detained by
5. (SBU) Caritas, a Catholic relief organization, reports
that there is a sizeable community of Christian-Iraqi
refugees in Istanbul, mostly Chaldeans and some Suriyanis.
Per Caritas estimate, 304 families have applied to them for
assistance. Caritas estimates that the families are fairly
large, averaging 5 people per family. Caritas reports that
the refugees come from various regions of Iraq, including
North, South, and Baghdad.
Need for Outside Assistance
6. (SBU) Yakan says that outside support is being solicited
from many other groups, with no assistance to date. The
Papal Nuncio in Istanbul has permitted the Chaldeans to use
St. Antoine Church for services, due to the large number of
worshippers. Yakan is soliciting support from Chaldean
communities abroad, which include approximately 270,000
Chaldeans in the US and 80,000 in the EU. Yakan will be
attending meetings with European and American Chaldeans in
Paris and Brussels in the near future to discuss possible
7. (SBU) Ideally, Yakan would prefer that the Chaldeans not
leave Iraq at all, as the community there (which he believes
numbered 1 million before the most recent war) has shrunk to
700,000 people. Yakan believes discrimination by other
minorities in Iraq, coupled with an unstable political
situation, account for the migration. Per Yakan, Kurds and
Shi'a in particular are making life uncomfortable for the
Chaldeans, seeking to cement their own hold on various towns,
and even jobs, by removing the Chaldeans already present.
Yakan related one story of 3 Chaldean nurses in Kirkuk who
were all fired form their jobs so that Kurds could be hired.
Fears of a Wave to Come
8. (SBU) In tandem with Iraq's larger infrastructural
problems, Chaldeans have been hit even harder, Yakan reports.
Chaldean schools and hospitals all are currently defunct, he
says. Yakan fears that, as Shi'a and Kurds consolidate their
hold, the Chaldeans will be more and more marginalized.
Yakan fears that "since Turkomans, Armenians, and others have
whole countries paying attention to their minorities'
concerns, Chaldeans will be easily forgotten."