As time runs out on their ability to stay in their ancient Mideast homelands, Christians, Yezidis, and other victims of ISIS’ genocide potentially just got a big helping hand from the Americans. The House of Representatives unanimously passed H.R. 390 — the Iraq and Syria Genocide Emergency Relief and Accountability Act of 2017.
Sponsored by Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., the bill seeks to provide resources to humanitarian organizations that are directly helping religious minorities in the northern Iraq region, while promoting legal accountability measures for perpetrators of atrocities against them.
In a statement celebrating the bill’s passage, Smith lamented that despite the U.S. government’s declarations of genocide against them last year, "the existential threat to Christians and Yazidis and other minorities continues to this day.”
“Some of the fortunate ones have made it to relative safety in Erbil,” it continues. “While there I saw much joy, love and courage, despite the loss of family and friends to ISIS. They had hope. The children sang Christmas carols with smiles and reverence – but astonishingly – last year or any year – they have not gotten any assistance from the United States.”
The bill has been in the works for months, but was moved up to the floor this week because of the languishing conditions in the camps, two sources confirmed to Conservative Review, under condition of anonymity. Now, it remains to be seen whether Senate leadership will address the legislation with the same sense of urgency.
While its fate in the Senate is uncertain, especially with so much else taking up legislative oxygen in the upper chamber, the bill’s expedited passage out of the House comes not a moment too soon for Iraq’s beleaguered religious minorities.
The resolution comes at a time when things are getting especially dire in Northern Iraq. Stephen Rasche, a U.S.-born aid coordinator for the Catholic archdiocese of Erbil, said in a recent interview that Christians in the region could run out of supplies “within weeks.”
A March report at World Watch Monitor outlines that the clinic run by the diocese — currently caring for just under 100,000 of the region’s religious minorities — has been running on fumes, with just weeks of food and medicine available at the time.
“If we can’t hold this community together over the next six to 12 months, it will all be for nought,” he told the religious persecution-focused news outlet, also saying that the region’s remaining Christians could end up “a custodian population looking after old church properties” if that happens.
One issue plaguing the region’s churches – which have been a primary engine of humanitarian assistance for the land’s religious minority populations – had been the refusal of the Obama administration to directly fund them.
The diocese is receiving some help to support its needs through the summer months thanks to emergency supplies from various religious organizations and the government of Hungary, Rasche told Conservative Review via email, but they’ve yet to receive a dime of aid from either the United States or the United Nations.
In contrast to this policy, the Iraq and Syria Genocide Emergency Relief and Accountability Act directly empowers the State Department to send money to religious entities and faith-based organizations to better pipeline assistance to communities specifically targeted for genocide by ISIS.
“The situation on the ground is extremely fluid,” Phillippe Nassif, executive director for In Defense of Christians, explained to CR. “Although ISIS is being pushed back in Iraq and Syria, the continued instability in both countries, especially in Syria, coupled with the sheer devastation wrought by ISIS in areas where Christians and Yazidis lived makes rehabilitating these communities extremely difficult.”
And that difficulty poses a true existential crisis for these millennia-old communities.
In a recent op-ed, Knights of Columbus CEO Carl Anderson, warns that time is indeed running out for Iraq’s Christians, who are approaching a “tipping point” of sorts.
Despite ISIS’ recent spate of military losses on the ground in the region, the genocide (and the Christian flight it generated) has continued, says Anderson, a long-time champion of Iraq’s religious minorities.
“Even in Iraq where Christians fled to the safety of Kurdistan, the conditions on the ground mean that ISIS’ dream of a Christian-free zone in the Middle East is being realized,” Anderson writes. “There, the attrition continues at such an alarming rate that Church leaders are warning that a ‘tipping point’ may be reached and Christianity there may no longer be sustainable.”
The main things needed now are short-term resource assistance, help with reconstructing their ancient homelands, and security, which Anderson says H.R. 390 specifically addresses.
Frank Wolf, a former Republican member of Congress who now works as a distinguished senior fellow at the 21st Century Wilberforce Institute, tells CR that he agrees with the tipping point assessment.
And, without some sort of big paradigm shift in the region in the next year, Christians are going to start leaving in even greater numbers, says Wolf, who began working as an advocate for global human rights during the Cold War.
According to Wolf’s assessment of the situation on the ground, with another cold, northern Iraqi winter approaching, very little hope of repatriation, and the promise of a more stable life somewhere else all threaten to push and pull these Christians from their ancestral homelands.
“They’re now calling their relatives who have flown to places like Canada and Australia and they’re saying to them that life is good,” Wolf says.
“When they come back to their villages, they’re homes are destroyed and they have no hope. We will reach a reach a tipping point where it will be too late to save it and we will see the end of Christianity in the cradle of Christendom.”
Disclosure: The author of this story used to work for Rep. Frank Wolf at the 21st Century Wilberforce Initiative.
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