- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The United States and the international community need to address long-term aid for the thousands of Christians fleeing genocide at the hands of the Islamic State, a panel of religious freedom advocates and human rights officials warned Congress on Wednesday.

Hours before President Obama was set to lay out plans to deal with the terrorist group, the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on global human rights heard recommendations on what should be done to help and protect displaced Christians.

“The situation on the ground in Iraq remains fluid and dire for many civilians who do not subscribe to ISIL’s ideology,” said Anne Richard, assistant secretary for the State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration. “It may require a long term commitment. The United States is working to build a coalition of governments committed to supporting the Government of Iraq, so that it, in turn, can protect its own people, especially minority communities.”

Tom Malinowski, assistant secretary for the State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, said U.S. officials have worked with the Syrian Opposition Coalition, the Iraqi government and the Kurdish Regional Government to ensure protection of religious minorities in the future.

“We know that if we want to protect religious minorities in Iraq, Syria and beyond, it’s not going to be enough to just beat [the Islamic State],” Mr. Malinowski said, adding that more inclusive governments in the Middle East would work toward that protection.

Thomas Staal, senior deputy assistant administrator for the Bureau for Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance under the U.S. Agency for International Development, said USAID has been working to provide shelters, clean water and food, with the help of partner agencies to ensure “that displaced families can recover from the current crisis, and become more resilient in the coming years.”

Mr. Staal said to do that requires working with the Defense Department and other “donor governments” that can help ensure humanitarian aid does not wane and that no minority group gets preferential treatment, and collaborate with the new Iraqi government.

“This is not going to be over soon, humanitarian access remains a critical problem,” Mr. Staal said. “Displaced persons will likely be unable or unwilling to return to their homes. They will likely have longterm needs that will need to be addressed.”

Thomas Farr, director of the Religious Freedom Project at the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs at Georgetown University, stressed the need to amend the International Religious Freedom Act and give more teeth to the position of ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom.

“Give the Ambassador the resources he needs to develop strategies, and to implement them in key countries around the globe,” he said. “Amend the IRFA to require that the list of particularly severe violators be issued annually with the [State Department’s International Religious Freedom] Report.

“Such changes will not work overnight. But without steps like this … the remaining Christians and other minorities of the Middle East will face violent persecution into the indefinite future,” Mr. Farr said.

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