Marco Rubio calls for 'urgent' US help for Middle East Christians

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio has called on the United States to urgently help the displaced Christians in the Middle East, warning that persecution of these believers is now on the rise.

(REUTERS / Chris Keane)Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio arrives to speak with the press before departing from the airport in Las Vegas, Nevada February 22, 2016.

In his speech at the three-day Third International Conference on Religious Freedom in Washington, Sen. Rubio called on the U.S. to stand with the persecuted Christians in the Middle East. The Florida senator, who received a standing ovation for his statement, said international religious liberty was a personal issue for him and he had spent a lot of time promoting his cause since he became part of the Senate, The Jerusalem Post relayed.

Rubio acknowledged the Obama and Trump administrations' move to recognize the Islamic State's atrocities against Christians as genocide. However, he said these declarations will remain hollow unless it is followed by concrete action to preserve Christian presence in the Middle East.

"If the United States fails to take meaningful steps to support these communities, including ensuring their access to humanitarian assistance and resources they need to rebuild, even more of them will be forced to abandon their ancient homeland," said Rubio.

Prior to Rubio's scheduled speech, U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross also spoke before the delegates of the conference. He expressed concern over the violence which stemmed from religious intolerance worldwide, Religion News Service reported.

During a press conference held before Ross' opening remarks, His Eminence Archbishop Angaelos of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the UK said it was high time for Christians to join forces to fight the "epidemic" of persecution. Archbishop Dionysius John Kawak of the Syriac Orthodox Church in the U.S. echoed the message of unity, highlighting the need for Middle East believers to learn to accept one another and to pitch in efforts to help those who are suffering.

World Council of Arameans president Johny Messo said the conference grants an opportunity for Christian leaders to "speak for people who have no voice." He pointed to the situation of Christians in Iraq and Syria and said it is important for leaders to act immediately since very few believers are left in the region.