WASHINGTON—A proposed piece of U.S. legislation that places a clear priority on helping Christians and other victims of Islamic State-perpetrated genocide in the Middle East may be able to help President Donald Trump’s administration keep its promise to help persecuted minority groups in Iraq and Syria.
The bill, which requests $10 million to protect the returning Christians and other ethnoreligious minorities, provides President Donald Trump’s administration with the ability to help vulnerable communities in Iraq, where ISIS is believed to be facing imminent defeat, argue some of the legislation’s proponents.
Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE), a leading advocate for the region’s religious minorities, told Breitbart News:
As ISIS is driven from its strongholds in the region, opportunity exists for the United States, in partnership with the international community, to help return Christians, Yezidis, and other persecuted minorities to their ancestral homelands, restoring the once-rich tapestry of ethnic and religious diversity that existed in the Middle East. With displaced indigenous communities torn between grave conditions and a glimmer of new hope, it is critical that we move to swiftly advance policies for their re-securitization, revitalization, and repatriation, especially in the Nineveh Plain and other areas of northern Iraq.
Fortenberry authored most of the language in the State and Foreign Operations (SFOPS) bill that directs the U.S. government to appropriate $10 million to protect vulnerable and persecuted Christians, Yazidis, and other religious minorities in Iraq and Syria.
The legislation still needs to pass the full House and Senate before President Trump can sign it into law.
Iraq’s Chaldean Catholic Patriarch Raphael Louis Sako has welcomed Congress’s proposed efforts to protect Christians and other minority groups.
“We are grateful to all those who have helped us in this very critical situation,” he told Breitbart News.
“What Iraqi Christians (and all Iraqis) need is peace, security, and stability. War after war has affected Christians and pushed them to leave their land for good. This is a pity,” he continued. “We need to be assisted to restore what ISIS has destroyed—houses, schools, dispensaries, churches, roads, and infrastructure.
Patriarch Sako has urged Christians to return to their historical homeland in Iraq, telling Breitbart News the “United States can support us in this matter.”
On Tuesday, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, echoing his predecessor, recognized that ISIS is “clearly responsible for genocide” against Christians, Yazidis, and other minority groups in Iraq and Syria.
The secretary noted that “the protection of these groups—and others who are targets of violent extremism—remains a human-rights priority for the [President Donald] Trump administration.”
Security is still the top concern among the minority group members who are considering traveling back to their homeland in the Middle East and those who have already made the trip.
“ISIS has and continues to target members of multiple religions and ethnicities for rape, kidnapping, enslavement, and death,” Tillerson told reporters Tuesday as the State Department released its annual report on international religious freedom.
The genocide declarations by the Trump and Obama administrations do not carry any legal obligation for the U.S. or others.
However, American lawmakers like Rep. Fortenberry have requested funding to help the ethnoreligious minority groups.
“In a bipartisan effort, the United States genocide designation against ISIS last year raised international awareness, opening pathways for policies to support the victims and punish those accountable for the horrific violence. President Trump and Vice President [Mike] Pence have both rightly condemned ISIS atrocities as genocide,” Fortenberry told Breitbart News.
A report from the House Appropriations Committee on the SFOPS bill points out that the Republican-led congress is concerned about the safe return of minority groups to their ancestral homeland in Iraq, noting:
Support for such individuals and communities should, to the maximum extent practicable, take into account the unique needs and security requirements necessary to for safe repatriation. The Committee urges the Secretary of State to make available from funds appropriated by this Act, assistance for securitization and stabilization in [minority communities]…of Iraq.
Such assistance should include support for demining and clearing of hazardous materials; interim zones of stability; restoration of basic services such as water and electricity, and repair of infrastructure; training related to security, local law enforcement, and pursuit of justice; and support for civil society and activities that promote dialogue between local leadership and coalition partners.
Pro-Christian minority advocates have urged the Trump administration to protect the minority groups as they return to their ancestral homeland in the Middle East.