Denham, Fortenberry, Eshoo Call on White House to Direct Military Assistance to Assyrian Christians

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Issues: Foreign Affairs
WASHINGTON — U.S. Representatives Jeff Denham (R-Calif.), Jeff Fortenberry (R-Neb.) and Anna G. Eshoo (D-Calif.) issued the following statement after meeting with the White House National Security team to urge assistance to persecuted Christians and other religious minorities in the Middle East. The lawmakers suggested a three-pillar approach that includes humanitarian aid, special refugee status in the U.S. for persecuted individuals and families who wish to leave, and direct military assistance for Christian self-defense forces in the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

“Christianity in the Middle East is shattered. ISIL’s genocidal campaign of religious cleansing has placed horrific pressure on the region’s ancient Christian communities and other faith minorities. Christians have a claim as much as anyone to live in their ancestral homelands. The United States can come to their aid by providing humanitarian assistance, special refugee status for victims, and empowering them to defend themselves.

“Victims of religious persecution are in desperate need of humanitarian aid in the face of extremist and violent acts from groups like ISIL. USAID partners have reached only 24 percent of displaced populations residing outside of camps with non-food humanitarian assistance. A countless number of victims are slipping through the cracks, and the United States must bolster this effort.

“Persecuted peoples who wish to leave should have access to a priority refugee status process with the State Department. The current multi-year wait period is simply too long for religious minorities under constant threat of death, torture and starvation.

“We were also pleased that Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes and staff for the National Security Council shared a desire for developing a pathway to grant certain local security forces—including Christian groups—a status similar to that of National Guard units, enabling them to provide better protective zones for their communities while supporting a national security mission.

“The stability and cultural identity of the Middle East depends in part on its vibrant mosaic of religious minorities. Christians in the region are longstanding pillars of civil society and essential allies in the efforts to promote pluralism and combat extremism. As ISIL works to exterminate the innocent and vulnerable members of this faith tradition, all people of good will should express concern for their protection—a cause that is essential to civilization itself.”

Denham is co-chair of the Congressional Assyrian Caucus.