Syria's Changes in Store for Refugees

Syria's Changes in Store for Refugees

November 28, 2018

When Congressman Chris Smith (R-N.J.) flew to Iraq before Christmas in 2016, it didn't just change his life – it might change millions. Seeing starving families in filthy camps, right in the heart of ISIS country, shocked him to the core. Driven out of their villages if they were lucky (and hunted if they weren't), thousands of Christian refugees huddled together in their sad excuse for tents. America, Chris resolved right then and there, would act.

Two years, 10 hearings, and one new president later, he finally got his wish. Yesterday, after one of the longest paths to passage, New Jersey's longtime human rights advocate watched as the House sent his Iraq and Syria Genocide Relief and Accountability Act to the president's desk. The moment was a proud one for Smith, who waited seven years for Barack Obama to even acknowledge the crisis. Once he did, the administration barely lifted a finger to offer real relief. But that only meant that Congressman Smith worked harder.

This week, that work paid off. And no one is happier to officially shrug off the indifference of the Obama years than he is. "The future of endangered religious and ethnic minorities targeted by ISIS for genocide will depend on help from the United States. I hope that our efforts will be enough and in time." Smith said on the House floor. "When genocide or other atrocity crimes are perpetrated, the United States should direct humanitarian, stabilization, and recovery aid to enable these people to survive -- especially when they are minorities whose existence as a people is at-risk," This law, he promised, would ensure "our actions match our words."

Among other things, the legislation will guarantee that faith-based groups finally get the funding they need to give on-the-ground help. "The surviving religious and ethnic minority communities have begun to receive targeted aid from the United States under the leadership of Vice President Pence, USAID Administrator Green, and Secretary Pompeo. But these communities remain imperiled," Smith warned. Until recently, relief groups have been operating almost entirely on private donations. In winter, when diseases run rampant, even basic necessities like food, blankets, and medicine are rare.

In some cases, survivors are starting to return home. And what they're finding is a brutal legacy of torture, carnage, and destruction. Earlier this month, the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq found evidence of more than "200 mass graves containing as many as 12,000 victims in northern and western Iraq," the Washington Times reported. But, Iraqi officials warn, "the number could be even higher."

The gruesome discovery was just one of the horrors left behind from ISIS's multi-year rampage. Hospitals and water supplies are "badly damaged." In places where it is safe to start rebuilding, the work is almost overwhelming. "In areas where the U.S. and coalition allies in Iraq and Syria operated," there is "significant damage to infrastructure" from the combat campaigns to free cities like Fallujah. Still, Congressman Smith says, there's always hope. "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."

It's a long road ahead, but Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) is relieved survivors aren't walking it alone. "This bill will send a powerful message to these communities that we haven't forgotten them. I thank Chairman Smith for his passionate leadership on this issue, and I look forward to the President swiftly signing this legislation into law."

Tony Perkins' Washington Update is written with the aid of FRC senior writers.

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