NJ Congressman Smith continues push to save persecuted Iraq and Syrian Christians
A bi-partisan bill introduced by New Jersey Republican Congressman Chris Smith (4th District covering Monmouth, Mercer and Ocean Counties) and Democratic Congresswoman Anna Eshoo (CA-18), to provide emergency relief to Christians and other minorities being driven from their homes, persecuted or killed by ISIS in Iraq and Syria remains stalled in the U.S. Senate and has been for the last 18-months since being passed by the House.
The Iraq and Syria Genocide Emergency Relief and Accountability Act of 2017 (H.R. 390) provides emergency relief to victims of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes and accountability for perpetrators of these crimes.
Since the Syrian Civil War began in 2011, there have been hundreds of thousands of Christians and other religious minorities including the Yazidis have been forced to flee, according to a report from WorldWatchMonitor, from what was once a prominent Christian community.
Something had to be done.
In 2014, Congressman Smith started a series of hearings and chaired ten overall to learn about about how so many Christians and Yazidis were being forced to leave their homes and churches or were killed for their faith.
"When they fled ISIS and many of their family members died horrible deaths, many of the women were subjected to sexual abuse and many of those women died as well, but the survivors, many of them made it to Erbil, a part of Iraq that is "relatively safe" but is much safer than other parts," Smith said. "They left Mosul and often left as full churches."
They were in need of help from the outside world.
In fact, Syriac Catholic Archbishop of Mosul Boutros Moushe told Smith that the problem wasn’t just ISIS, “they looted and burned our houses and were responsible for what happened. These evil intentions still exist,” Moushe said. “We need the international community’s assistance to bring trust again.”
In 2016 Smith, who was the chairman of the Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights and International Organization Subcommittee, penned legislation called the Iraq and Syria Genocide Relief and Accountability Act of 2016 (H.R. 5961) to give Christians, Yazidis and members of other persecuted religious and ethnic groups a new route into the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program.
"For years they have not been getting United States help," Smith said. "I would ask the Obama administration repeatedly 'why are you not helping these Christians?' and they would not help them."
In 2016, then Secretary of State John Kerry made a huge announcement by declaring that these crimes committed by ISIS were in fact a Genocide against Christians and other religious and ethnic minorities in Iraq and Syria.
Smith took a trip to Erbil in December of 2016 and saw the devastation first-hand.
"While I was there I was shocked that we (the U.S. Government) had not even visited the internally displaced camps to see if we could be of assistance," Smith said. "I went to those camps, one in particular had about 6,000 people. The people from our embassy wouldn't go with me so I went with the Archbishop Warda (Chaldean Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil) and saw the tremendous need that was unmet."
Smith also saw people whose faith was not shaken by such terrible actions committed by ISIS.
"There were little kids singing Christmas carols and it was really heartwarming to see so many people who had lost so much be resilient because of their faith and their backbones, but they were just getting by," Smith said. "There was not enough medicine, food or adequate shelter."
That's what sparked the Iraq and Syria Genocide Relief and Accountability Act.
"It will provide emergency aid, especially to entities like the Chaldean Catholic Church which was bypassed and could not get any help," Smith said. "It also has an accountability piece to continue collecting and to enhance the collection of information that could be used to prosecute war crimes. Very often after these horrible slaughters and in this case a genocide, the information that is actionable in a court of law dissipates...people's memories fade. This data holds the worst of the worst to account for these terrible crimes against humanity."
Smith says the Knights of Columbus were instrumental in assessing the need of these victims in the Middle East.
"Carl Anderson, the Supreme Knight, has been a leader if not the leader in saying that if the United States government fails, as it did under Obama's administration to help the Christians, his organization (the Knights of Columbus) raised something in the area of $60,000,000.00 of private sector dollars and got it to those most in need," Smith said.
Anderson also testified twice at Smith's congressional hearings to dive even further into what is happening.
"He provided expert on-site information about what we really need to do to mitigate the suffering that so many people are undergoing," Smith said. "The Knights of Columbus were pivotal in alerting all of us to the need and then coming up with their own contributions that they raised to make sure that people had food, clothing, shelter and medicine."
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