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President Trump signs bill to assist persecuted Christians in the Near East

AFP/Getty Images

New law helps aid go through faith-based groups, rather than United Nations

President Donald J. Trump signed into law a bill intended to boost American aid to Christians and other religious minorities in the Near East who have suffered from the persecution of the Islamic State group and other jihadists.

The Iraq and Syria Genocide Relief and Accountability Act of 2018 will provide humanitarian relief to genocide victims in Iraq and Syria and hold perpetrators of such genocide accountable.

“In recent years, IS has committed horrifying atrocities against religious and ethnic minorities in Syria and Iraq, including Christians, Yazidis, Shia and other groups,” Trump said at the bill signing Tuesday in the Oval Office. He said the bill directs U.S. assistance toward persecuted communities, including through faith-based programs. It also allows government agencies to help groups that are investigating and prosecuting IS’ ”despicable acts,” the Washington Post reported.

Surrounding President Trump at the signing ceremony were representatives of Christian communities that have suffered from the persecution of the Islamic State group since 2014, as well as American organizations that have been working to assist them. The group included Chaldean Catholic Archbishop Bashar Warda of Irbil, Iraq, where many Christians in Iraq who were forced from their villages on the Nineveh Plain have been living since 2014; Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio of the U.S. Archdiocese for the Military Services, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace; Carl Anderson, Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus; and Nina Shea of the Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom.

Many of the displaced Christians are still living in Iraqi Kurdistan and need assistance to return to their villages and stay in Iraq.

“The legislation signed today again reminds us of America’s earlier efforts to aid victims of genocide: Christian communities targeted by Ottomans a century ago and Jewish survivors of [the] Shoah,” Anderson said in a statement.

Since 2014, the Knights of Columbus has committed more than $20 million for relief efforts on behalf of Christians and other religious minorities in the region, said Catholic News Service. In October, the Knights signed a memorandum of understanding with the U.S. Agency for International Development for how religious minorities are to be assisted in the rebuilding and stabilization of their communities.

Archbishop Broglio called the new law a “critical” measure and “a signal of hope for the critically vulnerable of this region.”

Also on hand was U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See Callista Gingrich.

According to Fides news service, the new law modifies the policy of the State Department and the US Agency for International Development, which had distributed aid mainly through United Nations channels. In October 2017, Vice President Michael R. Pence declared in a speech, “We will no longer rely only on the United Nations organization to assist persecuted Christians and minority communities” but will work “side by side with faith groups and private organizations to help people persecuted for their faith.”

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