The U.S. House of Representatives unanimously passed a measure in late November to provide humanitarian relief to genocide victims in Iraq and Syria and to hold Islamic State perpetrators accountable. The Senate also has passed its version of the measure unanimously.
“When genocide or other atrocity crimes are perpetrated, the United States should direct some of its humanitarian, stabilization and recovery aid to enable these groups to survive — especially when they are minorities whose existence as a people is at risk,” Rep. Chris Smith, R-New Jersey, said in remarks from the House floor before the vote. “We should commit to such a response whether the victims are the Rohingya in Burma or Christians and Yezidis in Iraq and Syria.”
Smith, who is chairman of the House Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, introduced the legislation in 2016 and again in 2017, with lead Democratic co-sponsor Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-California.
He noted that he had just met earlier that day Chaldean Archbishop Bashar Warda of Irbil, Iraq, and the prelate told him: “Christians in Iraq are still at the brink of extinction. H.R. 390 is vital to our survival. If it becomes law, implementation must be full and fast. Otherwise, the help it provides will be too late for us.”
Among its key provisions, the bill directs the administration to:
— Fund entities, including faith-based ones, that are providing humanitarian, stabilization, and recovery aid on-the-ground to genocide survivors from religious and ethnic minorities.
— Assess and address the humanitarian vulnerabilities, needs, and triggers that might force these survivors to flee.
In Iraq, the number of Christians is below 200,000, down from 1.4 million in 2002 and 500,000 in 2013, before IS militants went on a genocidal campaign, according to figures provided by Smith’s congressional office. Many of the remaining Christians in Iraq are displaced, mostly in Irbil in the Kurdistan region, and need assistance to return to their homes and stay in Iraq. Of the 550,000 Yezidis who remain in Iraq, about 280,000 are still displaced and also need assistance to return to their homes.