Posted tagged ‘Yazdi refugees’

Critics: State Department Delaying Aid Congress Provided to Yazidis, Christians in Iraq

September 25, 2017

Critics: State Department Delaying Aid Congress Provided to Yazidis, Christians in Iraq, Washington Free Beacon , September 25, 2017

Iraqis Yazidis dance during a ceremony celebrating the Yazidi New Year north east of Mosul / Getty Images

Human rights activists and Catholic groups are questioning why the State Department still appears reluctant to direct money Congress appropriated to assist Christians, Yazidis, and other persecuted religious minorities in Iraq but this week quickly dispatched $32 million to help a majority Muslim group fleeing violence in Burma.

The State Department on Thursday announced it would provide a humanitarian aid package worth nearly $32 million to the Rohingya, a persecuted minority group in Burma. More than 400,000 Rohingya have fled Burma, a majority Buddhist nation, for Bangladesh over the past month to escape wide-scale violence that the United Nations’ top human rights official has labeled ethnic cleansing.

The aid package came the day after Secretary of State Rex Tillerson spoke with Aung San Suu Kyi, the de facto leader of Burma, and urged the Burmese government and military to “address deeply troubling allegations of human rights abuses and violations.”

Tillerson’s quick efforts to help the Rohingya demonstrated the State Department’s ability to quickly direct humanitarian aid to a threatened minority group. However, critics say the swift action stands in sharp contrast to State’s foot-dragging when it comes to directing funds to Yazidis, Christians, and other religious minorities facing genocide in Iraq.

Earlier this year, Congress allocated more than $1.4 billion in funds for refugee assistance and included specific language to ensure that part of the money would be used to assist Yazidis, Christians, and Shia Muslims—all groups the State Department deemed victims of genocide in 2016. Over the summer, Tillerson affirmed his belief that these religious minority groups in Iraq are the victims of Islamic-State genocide.

Lawmakers who passed the bills providing the funds, as well as human rights activists and Catholic charities, were encouraged by Tillerson’s affirmation of the genocide declaration, but they say his statements have done nothing to change the situation on the ground. The Yazidis and Christians are still not getting the necessary money to help them rebuild their lives and communities in the Northern Iraq’s Ninevah province, where they have thrived for thousands of years.

The Knights of Columbus, a global Catholic charity that has spent years on the ground housing and feeding thousands of Yazidis and Christians ground, said a much larger rebuilding plan is needed to save them extinction from Iraq. Congress has already responded by allocating funds, but the State Department is preventing them from getting directly to the communities in Iraq, according to GOP lawmakers and human rights activists.

ISIS murders and kidnappings, as well as efforts to flee this persecution, have radically reduced the Yazidi and Christian population in Iraq. Christians, which numbered between 800,000 to 1.4 million in 2002, number fewer than 250,000 now. Without action, these lawmakers and activists warn, Christians could soon disappear completely from Iraq.

The Yazidi population also has plummeted, although estimates of how far the population has fallen vary wildly, ranging from the tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands since ISIS launched its attack in the Sinjar region of Iraq in 2014.

Despite the congressional commitment, lawmakers and human rights activists say most of the U.S. taxpayer money going to help people in Iraq is channeled through the United Nations, which has a “religion-blind” policy of distributing most of the money to refugee camps that Yazidis and Christians avoid out of fear of further violence and persecution.

“It is always good when people who are in danger are helped. But why is there a terrible disparity between our government’s treatment of the Rohingya Muslims in Burma and the absolute lack of help for Yazidis and Christians in Iraq, whom Secretary Tillerson declared last month to be victims of genocide?” asked Nina Shea, an international human rights lawyer who directs the Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom.

“In Iraq, we should be helping people who are victims of genocide, but our government is not,” she said. “We should be caring for religious minorities. But our government is not. We should be concerned about religious freedom. But our government is not.”

Shea, who spent 12 years as a commissioner on the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, said the dearth of U.S. taxpayer resources getting to these communities is incredibly frustrating, considering the direct national security interests of rebuilding those communities. Displaced Christians specifically could help play a stabilizing role in the Ninevah Plain area of Iraq if they have enough infrastructure and support to rebuild their homes and communities, she said.

If they had the resources, they also could combat Iran’s colonization of northern Iraq, where pro-Iranian militias are illegally buying up Christian-owned property in the area to try to broaden their influence, she said.

“Right now, Iran is using the Ninevah province as a land bridge to Syria and the Mediterranean and that is a threat to our interests and Israel’s interests,” she said.

The State Department’s inaction continues despite President Trump’s promise to do everything in his power to defend and protect “historic Christian communities of the Middle East.” Trump made the pledge after meeting with Pope Francis and again in the wake of the ISIS attack on Coptic Christians in Egypt in late May.

A State Department official did not respond directly to questions about why the money is not getting to Yazidis and Christians despite the genocide declaration. Instead, the officials stressed that the U.S. government is the largest single donor to the Iraq and Syria humanitarian crises, having contributed $1.7 billion since fiscal year 2014.

“The United States closely monitors the needs of all vulnerable, displaced and conflict-affected populations, including members of religious and ethnic minorities and has taken extraordinary measures to aid imperiled civilians,” the official said in a statement to the Washington Free Beacon.

“Freedom of thought, conscience, and religion or belief is fundamental to the United States and who we are. The United States remains committed to ensuring the protection of religious freedoms for all,” the official added.

Congressional aides dispute any suggestion that the United States is committed to ensuring that Yazidis and Christians communities remain in Iraq.

Lawmakers on Capitol Hill and human rights activists are tracking the list of U.N. development projects in Iraq closely and said there are only very minor projects in Christian towns and communities, such as one that would repair a canopy on a municipal building and no major infrastructure or road projects that would help Christian communities return and provide interim jobs for those returning.

The Iranians, in contrast, just opened a new elementary school, mosque, and library in the Ninevah region, she said.

The continued push to get the funds to Yazidis and Christians on the ground comes the same week that the U.N. Security Council created an investigative team aiming to hold ISIS accountable for war crimes and genocide in Iraq.

U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley called the resolution creating the team a “landmark” development. “It is a major step towards addressing the death, suffering, and injury of the victims of crimes committed by ISIS in Iraq—crimes that include genocide. These victims have been Yazidis, Christians, Shia and Sunni Muslims, and many, many more.”

Shea and other activists consider the resolution a good first step but argue it is critically important that Yazidi and Christian leaders are appointed to help lead the investigative team aiming to hold ISIS accountable for war crimes and genocide in Iraq.

According to a Security Council resolution calling on the U.N. secretary-general to create the investigative team, its mission would be to collect, preserve and store evidence of ISIS war crimes and genocide.

Yazidis to Anti-Trumpers: Where Were You During Islamic State Genocide Against Us?

February 9, 2017

Yazidis to Anti-Trumpers: Where Were You During Islamic State Genocide Against Us? BreitbartEdwin Mora, February 8, 2017

(But, but . . . since the Islamists are doing the persecuting, they should get the first chance to come to America. Giving priority — or even allowing entry —  to those whom they persecute would just make matters worse: they might be persecuted where we can see it, which would cause Islamophobia, a far worse evil than persecution of weird people like Yazidis, Christians and the few remaining Jews. At least that seems to be the logic — if any —  behind the complaints. — DM)  

yazidi-women-reutersrodi-said-640x480REUTERS/Rodi Said

Outrage over President Donald Trump’s executive order prioritizing refugee claims by persecuted religious minorities has puzzled activists from Iraq’s Yazidi community, who note the lack of major protests against the brutal massacre of thousands of Yazidis and Christians by the Islamic State.

Former President Barack Obama’s administration and the United Nations recognized that Yazidis, Christians, and other ethnoreligious minorities in the Middle East have been victims of genocide at the hands of the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL).

Nevertheless, opponents of the executive order (EO) have lambasted the religious minority exception, denouncing President Trump for giving preferential treatment to persecuted minority groups. The order bars the entry into the United States of visa travelers from seven terrorism-linked countries (Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Yemen) for at least 90 days and orders the U.S. government to prioritize refugee claims by persecuted religious minorities.

The order, which has sparked protests and outcry across the nation, does not identify religious minority groups by name. However, Michael Short, a White House spokesman, told Breitbart News,“Yazidis would be covered under the EO as they are a persecuted religious minority.”

U.S. District Court Judge James Robart in Seattle has issued a ruling that temporarily blocks Trump’s order, which the Trump administration argues is primarily intended to strengthen U.S. national security.

Breitbart News spoke to several Yazidi activists who expressed support for the executive order and argued that it does not amount to a Muslim ban, as critics argue.

Echoing Iraqi Catholic Archbishop Bashar Warda, Mizra Ismail — a Yazidi activist with the Yazidi Human Rights Organization-International — told Breitbart News, referring to opponents of Trump’s executive order:

My first question for those protesters is: where were they when ISIS was committing genocide against the Yezidis and Christians in Iraq and Syria? ISIS killed and kidnapped thousands of Yezidis, mostly young women, girls and children. The ISIS jihadists also beheaded many Yezidis and Christians openly in the most brutal way and posted their videos on social media.

What were those protesters doing then? I believe when ISIS committed all those crimes against the Yezidis and Christians, those protesters were blind.

Another Yazidi activist expressed support for Trump’s order, saying it is necessary to keep the U.S. safe.

“As a Yezidi, I am supportive of any genuine effort and precaution meant to keep this country safe and prosperous,” Gulie Khalaf from Yezidis International, told Breitbart News. “If a 90-day ban on all refugees, including Yezidis, is what it will take to ensure that this country does not become full of residents who neither care for the values of this society nor its constitution, then let us have the 90-day ban. Hopefully, that time will be spent to figure out who is deserving of the opportunities and the rights this country offers.”

The activist argued that the persecuted minority exception is necessary and does not subject Muslims to “discrimination” as many opponents of the order have claimed.

“It is not breaking laws or going against any kind of values if Trump and his administration decide that endangered groups should be an exception to the ban,” declared Khalaf.

A different Yazidi activist, Haji Hameka, stressed that the executive order is not a Muslim ban but rather an effort to keep America safe.

“It is not a ban against bringing Muslim refugees to the United States. It is a security check to avoid the entry of terrorists from groups such as al-Qaeda, and ISIS,” he told Breitbart News.

“Trump is a real American Patriot who is putting America and Americans first,” noted the activist. “He has to protect, support, and save the United States. He was elected by Americans to put America first.”

Trump’s measure dictates that once refugee admissions resume after a 120-day suspension aimed at improving the vetting process, the U.S. government, “to the extent permitted by law,” is expected to “prioritize claims made by individuals on the basis of religious-based persecution, provided that the religion of the individual is a minority religion in the individual’s country of nationality.”

In other words, persecuted minorities in Iraq in Syria, such as the Christians and Yazidis, may go to the front of the line after the refugee program suspension is over.

During the 120-day suspension, the Secretaries of the State and Homeland Security have the discretion “on a case-by-case basis” to allow the entry of members of persecuted religious minority groups.

“Identifying specific countries with Muslim majorities and carving out exceptions for minority religions flies in the face of the constitutional principle that bans the government from either favoring or discriminating against particular religions,” argued American Civil Liberties Union Executive Director Anthony Romero in a statement.

The Trump administration and Republican lawmakers, including House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI), have defended the religious minority exception.

Meanwhile, Democrats like Sen. Diane Feinstein from California have denounced the directive, arguing that granting priority to persecuted minorities is unfair to Muslims.