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US House of Representatives passes Iraq and Syria Genocide Relief Act

28 June 2017

In a sign of hope in US politics, a bipartisan bill to aid religious minorities, including Christians, in Iraq and Syria has been passed by the US House of Representatives. It now needs to be passed by the Senate before it becomes law. The Iraq and Syria Genocide Relief and Accountability Act seeks to help persecuted Christians and other minorities in three main ways.

1. It authorises the US government to provide practical help to organisations collecting evidence of genocide and crimes against humanity so that prosecutions can take place.

2. It instructs the State Department to identify “threats of persecution and other early warning indicators of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes” against members of “religious or ethnic minority groups” in Iraq and Syria. This would also mean that Christians, and members of other minorities identified as facing persecution, would be deemed to be of special humanitarian concern to the United States and therefore prioritised within the US refugee system.

3. It authorises the US government to provide international aid targeted specifically at these religious minorities, including providing assistance through faith-based organisations.

At the moment, many Christians who have fled jihadi violence are being effectively excluded from US government assistance. This is because they are being looked after by church groups in Iraq which, under current US rules, cannot receive such aid. Representative Chris Smith (Republican, New Jersey), who co-sponsored the bill, told of his visit to a camp for 6,000 displaced people in northern Iraq run by the Iraqi church last December. He said, “I was shocked we (the United States) were not supplying assistance to these men, women and families . . . Right now, they’re not getting so much as a dime from the U.S. government.”

United States Congress
United States Congress

His fellow co-sponsor, Representative Anna Eshoo (Democrat, California), commented that if the bill passed the US Senate it would “make a difference in the lives of tens of thousands of people who’ve been persecuted by ISIS - Christians, Yazidis and other minorities in the Middle East.”

If the Senate passes the bill – and assuming President Trump signs it into law – it will be a major step forward in ensuring that Christians fleeing jihadi violence in the Middle East receive fair and equitable proportions of taxpayer-funded overseas aid and are treated justly, their particular vulnerability recognised in refugee resettlement programmes. These are both issues Barnabas Fund had long campaigned to correct.

However, these injustices in the distribution of taxpayer-funded aid and refugee resettlement also exist in other Western countries such as the UK – as we highlighted in our recent manifesto for persecuted Christians. Therefore, we call on the UK and other Western governments to follow this excellent, bipartisan approach and ensure that persecuted Christians are neither excluded from government-funded aid nor under-represented in refugee resettlement programmes.