HRWF (20.10.2017) – Four House members are pressing the top official of the U.S. Agency for International Development to bypass the United Nations and channel funds intended to help Christians and Yazidis in Iraq directly to Catholic charities and others helping them on the ground. On 12 October, they addressed a letter to Mark Green, Administrator of the US Agency International Development in Washington DC as follows:
Dear Administrator Green,
As ISIS is driven from Iraq, the need for reconstructing the homes and cities of Christians, Yezidis, and other ethnic and religious minorities in the Nineveh Plain has reached a point of existential urgency. This area of Northern Iraq is the ancestral homeland of ancient faith traditions against which ISIS committed genocide. Returning Christians, Yezidis and others to their rightful place will reknit the once-rich tapestry of pluralism and diversity that existed in the region – an effort that is essential to any hope of durable stability in Iraq and the region.
It is our understanding that the State Department has gravitated toward channeling humanitarian, stabilization, and recovery funds to the United Nations to handle such a dynamic. The United Nations often provides vital coordination in emergencies. But a combined strategy of re-securization, revitalization, and repatriation – within a fast narrowing window of time – requires swifter, more effective, more accountable action to restore these indigenous communities. We have also received credible reports of significant corruption in the UN bidding and contracting process for stabilization projects in Iraq. In addition to issues of immigration and challenges of assimilation in new countries, we cannot allow inaction to create the conditions for permanent refugee camps or for scattering of Internalli Displaces Persons and refugees who long to return home.
Success also has a national security dimension. Repatriation has a strategic advantage of heading off potential conflict between the KRG and Baghdad while barring an Iranian land bridge to the Mediterranean, which presently threatens to fill the vacuum in the Nineveh Plain created by the removal of ISIS. This land bridge will be occupied by forces loyal to Tehran if security and rebuilding fails to come from other quarters.
USAID has an immediate opportunity to partner with entities committed to the appropriate reconstruction of damaged homes and public buildings, in several key towns in the Nineveh Plain of Iraq. Although two Administrations and the United States Congress determined that ISIS targeted Christians, Yezidis, and other religious and ethnic minorities for genocide, a lack of concerted response following the fall of ISIS has resulted in dire conditions where these peoples desperately need assistance if they are to survive. Timely action would address provisions outlined in the genocide declarations and mirror the current Administration’s desire to help the survivors.
There have been a number of relevant Congressional actions – including Fiscal Year 2017 omnibus (P.L. 115-31) requirements that some of the $1.4 billion appropriated for the International Disaster Assistance and Migration and Refugee Assistance accounts be made available for religious minority victims of genocide. Congressional delegations to the region met with survivors and their conversations animated legislation such as the Iraq and Syria Genocide Emergency Relief and Accountability Act (H.R. 390), which the House passed unanimously in June and followed upon the unanimously passed genocide resolutions (H. Con. Res. 75 and S. Res. 340). In addition Congressional hearings and communications to the President and State Department have been clear about the importance of acting now. The goal is to assure that USAID and the State Department spent authorized and appropriated funds to prevent these endangered communities from being erased.
We implore you to review proposals from credible organizations on the ground in the region who are committed to these goals, and if deemed worthy, to move swiftly to empower them through available resources to rebuild the region. We strongly urge your agency to embrace the significant opportunity to restore hope for peoples who face extinction, and we stand ready to assist in any way we can.
Jeff Fortenberry, Member of Congress
Anna G. Eshoo, Member of Congress
Chris Smith, Member of Congress
Robert Atlerholt, Member of Congress
Fortenberry, Aderholt, and Smith are longtime human rights advocates. Democrat Rep. Eshoo has a personal interest in the mission. She is a Chaldean Catholic and first-generation American. Her mother is Armenian and her father is an Assyrian Christian from Iraq.
The letter is the latest effort by a bipartisan group of lawmakers in the House and Senate, along with human rights activists and Catholic groups, to persuade the State Department and USAID to change the previous policy of directing most of its money to Iraq through the United Nations.
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