June 07, 2017
The thousands of Middle East families living in tattered refugee tents barely have food -- let alone televisions -- but you can bet they were cheering the news of Donald Trump's election. Driven out of their villages if they were lucky (and hunted if they weren't), local Christians have been hanging on for survival by a thread. As ISIS marches across the dusty roads of biblical times, believers of our ancient faith are desperate for help from the United States. For seven years, Barack Obama wouldn't even acknowledge the crisis, let alone do anything about it. But that only meant that Congressman Chris Smith (R-N.J.) worked harder. After seeing the conditions of these camps, he was absolutely determined to get the U.S. government to act.
And three years, nine hearings, and one new president later, he may finally get his wish. Yesterday, after one of the longest paths to passage, New Jersey's longtime human rights advocate watched as the House passed his Iraq and Syrian Genocide Accountability Act, giving fresh hope to the suffering Christians in filthy, dangerous, and starving camps in the heart of ISIS country. Rep. Smith is hoping to right the wrong of the Obama administration, which intentionally withheld government aid from faith-based aid groups. Powered exclusively by private donations, a lot of these organizations still managed to meet the need of the 12,000 families in Iraq and Syria. But their bank accounts are almost empty -- along with the camps' cupboards. As Rep. Smith told me on Tuesday's "Washington Watch," the relief groups are almost completely out of meals because the American government bypassed them for funding.
"I've [spent so much time on the] issue of genocide and the fact that so many Christians have not gotten assistance. This ensures that they get it. And I went there right before Christmas, and I went to the displaced persons camp, one of them in Erbil, Iraq, and I was shocked to see all of these kids and all of these families and no U.S. assistance. Private charities stepped up to the plate, but we know that church leaders have been triaging the money over the last several years, including right now in terms of food, aid, and medicines because the U.S. government has refused to assist them."
When Rep. Smith landed in Iraq last December, he was shocked to learn that U.S. officials were so disinterested in the plight of these families that they hadn't made the 10-minute drive to visit the closest camp. Unfortunately, the only thing President Obama seemed passionate about was letting other Syrians stream into the country unchecked, slamming the door in the face of the thousands of Christians desperate for a safe place to start over.
Like us, Congressman Smith is anxious to seize the moment and shrug off the indifference of the last eight years. The bill, he explains, "is a blueprint for how to assist Christians and other genocide survivors and hold perpetrators accountable." Among other things, it would jumpstart the asylum process for religious minorities -- but not in a way that would leave the U.S. vulnerable. "Everyone will have to go through a vetting process," the congressman reassured people. But in a big departure from the past, the U.S. would cut through the red tape of the U.N. and actually conduct the first interview for refugees overseas. Not only would H.R. 390 speed up the application process, but it would also prosecute those committing war crimes against Christians and fund relief efforts for survivors of Middle East genocide.
Despite the horrors they've seen, Rep. Smith is amazed by their perseverance. "We heard repeatedly from Christians themselves... how their faith is undiminished. They are strong, they're resilient. They love the Lord. They've been traumatized by beheadings and rapes, loss of loved ones. Their churches [have] been firebombed, exploded, even booby trapped if they try to go back and yet their faith like persecuted Christians in the First Century [is] stronger than ever." Let's hope the United States Senate puts feet to those prayers and sends a bill to the president that helps who his predecessor would not. Contact your senators here and urge them to move quickly on the Iraq and Syrian Genocide Accountability Act.
Tony Perkins' Washington Update is written with the aid of FRC senior writers.