Conyers: More must be done to save Christians from ISIS

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John Conyers Jr., Detroit Free Press guest writer
(Photo: Oct. 31 photo by MARWAN IBRAHIM/AFP/Getty Images)
Seventy years ago, as the horrors of the Holocaust were revealed, the world rallied around a simple promise: never again. If a minority group in any nation should face the threat of systematic slaughter, we pledged not to avert our eyes.

Right now — in a region awash with media attention — it’s happening again. Yet few are paying attention.

In Iraq, the Chaldean Christians — an ancient sect with unique traditions and deep ties to Roman Catholicism — have been ruthlessly targeted by extremist militant groups, including al-Qaida and, most recently, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Over the past decade, monasteries have been raided, prominent clergy have been abducted and executed, and churches have been bombed and attacked during worship. With the rise of ISIS in northern Iraq, entire communities have been purged of their Chaldean populations.

As a member of Congress from Michigan — home to the largest Chaldean diaspora population in America — these devastating stories are all too familiar to me. The world needs to know. The Chaldean people need help.

The Obama administration has initiated military action against ISIS in response to the grave humanitarian threat to minority groups in northern Iraq. This year, the U.S. has dedicated $200 million to deal with the emergency. Laudably, Saudi Arabia recently pledged $500 million. But Chaldean leaders in the U.S. continue to receive reports of communities encircled by ISIS and cut off from aid. It’s become clear that the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, which oversees much of the relief effort, must do more to collaborate with leaders from the Chaldean community and other minority groups to learn where people are suffering most.

America’s failure to accept many Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany in the years leading up to World War II remains a stain on our conscience. There are steps our government can and should take right now to avoid repeating this moral failure. Last month, I, along with colleagues from both parties, wrote to President Barack Obama to encourage the administration to coordinate with the government of Iraq and international and regional partners on the ground to resume in-country processing of Iraqi refugees.

When sufficient embassy staffing can be safely provided in Iraq, our government should prioritize the swift resettlement of Yazidis, Chaldeans and other persecuted people to safe places. The administration should also use its broad authority to parole people into our country on a case-by-case basis during a humanitarian emergency, using a mechanism through the Department of Homeland Security.

Through this authority, religious minorities who already have family living in the U.S. can be reunited with their loved ones.

The destruction of Iraq’s minority communities has been much slower than the mass atrocities in Rwanda, Yugoslavia, Cambodia and Nazi Germany during the 20th Century, but there’s simply no word other than genocide to describe the complete purging of a people from their land. As Americans, we have not only an obligation but also some important tools to stop this from happening.

John Conyers Jr., a Democrat from Detroit, represents the 13th District in the U.S. House of Representatives.