WASHINGTON — A Senate committee on Tuesday voted to advance a bill that seeks to ensure U.S. aid reaches Christian genocide victims in Iraq.
“The vote from this morning is an important step toward providing relief for those victims of the genocide committed by ISIS,” said Rep. Chris Smith, R-New Jersey, one of the sponsors of H.R. 390, the Iraq and Syria Genocide Emergency Relief and Accountability Act of 2017.
Christians in Iraq who were forcibly displaced from their homes by the expansion of Islamic State in 2014, many of whom have been living in Iraqi Kurdistan, have been dependent on the Chaldean Archeparchy of Erbil and aid groups like the Knights of Columbus and Aid to the Church in Need for basic needs like rent, heating and food.
Although Mosul and surrounding towns on the Nineveh Plain have been liberated from Islamic State control by coalition forces, some families have not yet been able to return to their homes since they may not have the resources or security to repair their homes and resume their normal lives.
The U.S. has declared that the Islamic State committed genocide against Christians, Yazidis and Shi’a Muslims in Iraq and Syria but, despite being genocide victims, Christians in Iraq have also reported that they have not been receiving official U.S. aid. The aid from non-governmental organizations is “not enough,” Smith has said; the Christians need to have access to official U.S. humanitarian aid.
“We’re not asking for new money,” Smith said at a June press conference before his bill passed the U.S. House. “We’re asking to make sure the money that’s in the pot is provided to those who have been left out and left behind for about three years.”
Christians could have much greater access to the aid if it was allowed to go through churches and church organizations, who are able to reach Christian populations, Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-California, another sponsor of the bill, said at the press conference.
“The State Department would not allow any U.S. dollars to flow to church organizations. And this legislation allows for that,” she said.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted Sept. 19 to advance the bill out of the committee, moving it closer to a floor vote. Smith praised Tuesday’s vote, saying the bill provides much-needed support to the Chaldean Archeparchy of Erbil, which has hosted Christian victims of Islamic State for several years.
“Chaldean Catholic Archbishop Bashar Warda has been sustaining more than 95,000 Christians who escaped ISIS — almost one-third of Christians remaining in Iraq,” Smith said.
“It is incomprehensible that the U.S. has not done more to help,” he said, noting that the bill should be passed soon, as “lives are depending upon it.”
And time is running out to ensure that Christians get the assistance they need. Since the Christian families have been away from home for three years and their children are going without education for another year, the Knights of Columbus said they received reports that families could leave Iraq for good by the fall if they do not have a viable way of returning home.