Congressman pleads for US not to abandon Iraq's Christians

An American congressman who visited displaced Christians living in the Kurdistan Region has pleaded with the United States not to abandon the believers in Iraq amid the continuing humanitarian crisis in the wake of the Islamic State atrocities.

(REUTERS / Zohra Bensemra)Recently displaced people rush a food distribution point in Khazer refugee camp, Iraq on Nov. 11, 2016.

In an interview with the Catholic News Agency, U.S. Rep. Chris Smith from New Jersey said the faith of the displaced Christians in Iraq remain strong despite their deplorable living situation in the last two years. He said their faith had been put to the test when ISIS drove them out of their homeland, but their love for God has grown stronger instead of fading away.

During Smith's recent visit to Erbil, Iraq before Christmas, he saw the unmet humanitarian need of the tens of thousands of displaced Christians who mainly depend on charity for their basic provisions. Chaldean Archbishop Bashar Warda told Smith that the Christian community in Iraq will become extinct if they do not receive the right financial support soon, The Trentonian reports.

Even though the U.S. already declared in March 2016 that ISIS committed genocide against Christians and other minorities in Iraq and Syria, the chair of the House global human rights subcommittee said the survivors are still not being given refugee status and special humanitarian relief.

"Humanitarian aid has not flowed to these individuals," said Smith in the CNA interview. He also noted that the refugees do not have "access to an asylum interview, so if they can't go back, they can come here."

Aside from that, Smith noted that the refugee camps are being run by Christian leaders who are not asking for anything in exchange for their efforts to help the ISIS survivors. In light of the situation, he challenged the U.S. to step up its humanitarian aid as Poland and Hungary have done.

Meanwhile, Smith and Rep. Anna Eshoo of California have filed a bill called the Iraq and Syria Genocide Relief and Accountability Act in Congress to help address the humanitarian issue in the region. The bill would make sure that victims of genocide are granted humanitarian relief, asylum interviews and justice for the atrocities done to them.