House OKs bill to aid genocide victims; Senate urged to act quickly

Friday, Jun. 16, 2017

WASHINGTON (CNS) — The co-authors of a House bill that will provide humanitarian aid to Christians and other religious groups suffering at the hands of Islamic State militants praised the June 6 House passage of the measure and urged the Senate to quickly act on it.

The House unanimously approved the bipartisan Iraq and Syria Genocide Emergency Relief and Accountability Act, or H.R. 390, in a voice vote.

Co-authored by Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., and Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Calif., the bill will provide emergency relief and aid to the victims of genocide in Iraq and Syria, particularly the Christians in the Middle East as well as other religious minorities.

The humanitarian aid will be directed to groups such as the Chaldean Catholic Archdiocese of Irbil, Iraq, which provides direct care for victims, and those groups in turn get the assistance to those in need.

“This legislation appropriately focuses on atrocities being committed against Christians and other religious and ethnic minorities in the Middle East, especially in Iraq and Syria,” the chairman of the U.S. bishops’ international policy committee said in a June 9 letter urging swift passage by the Senate.

Writing as chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace, Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, N.M., said: “As the situation in Syria and Iraq remains dire for minorities, I note that H.R. 390 calls for much needed assistance for survivors of genocide and would allow faith-based organizations – such as Catholic Relief Services – that are already providing humanitarian assistance to these populations, to access U.S. government funding in their work.”

He addressed his letter to Sens. Bob. Corker, R-Tenn., and Ben Cardin, D-Md., who are, respectively, chairman and ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The bishop pointed out that “over the years, the Catholic Church has consistently supported Christians and other religious and ethnic minorities facing persecution in the Middle East, many of whom are internally displaced or have fled as refugees.”

On June 7 Smith and Eshoo held a news conference urging the Senate to continue the progress of this legislation to ensure the swift direction of funds to the Middle East.

“We are celebrating something today that we believe is something that is going to make a difference in the lives of tens of thousands of people who have been persecuted by ISIS,” Eshoo said. “Certainly the Christians, those of my own background, the Yezidis, and other minorities in the Middle East.”

In addition to sending humanitarian aid for groups in Iraq and Syria to provide to genocide victims, the bill also ensures that the government’s money will be monitored.

“There will be accountability for these dollars,” Eshoo said. “But it is so essential to work with those who are on the ground that know exactly where the dollars should go.”

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