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Congressman demands support for abandoned Christian refugees in Middle East

A displaced Iraqi Christian child lights a candle in Arbil, the capital of the autonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq, on Oct. 18. (Safin Hamed/AFP/Getty Images)

Since his election in 1981, New Jersey Republican Rep. Chris Smith has defended Christians and religious liberty with tenacious passion. Now, more than three decades after assuming office, he’s still standing tall for the abused and forgotten.

This week, Smith, along with his Democratic cosponsor, California Rep. Anna Eshoo, reintroduced the Iraq and Syria Genocide Emergency Relief and Accountability Act, which is aimed at providing “emergency relief to victims of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes in Iraq and Syria.”

Smith, having years ago been moved by “Tortured for Christ,” a book by Voice of Martyrs founder Pastor Richard Wurmbrand, who spent 14 years in communist prisons, has been shaken by what Smith calls President Barack Obama’s “gross negligence” in addressing the needs of Christians persecuted by ISIS. According to the Council on Foreign Relations, of the 10,801 refugees accepted by the U.S. as of September, only 56 are Christians.

In an interview with TheBlaze, Smith lamented the situation of Christian leaders who are working without U.S. dollars, given USAID doesn’t benefit faith-based organizations, to help displaced minorities in the Middle East: “They’re getting no help from the United States government, and that is not just baffling — it is disturbing, disappointing and, frankly, outrageous.”

Should the bill move forward, something Smith is optimistic about under the new Congress and Trump White House, it would solve that problem, according to the sponsors.

Currently, a vast majority of refugees receiving protection are given such benefits by the United Nations and other non-governmental organizations that either ignore or don’t specifically target persecuted Christians. Smith’s bill simply calls for better stewardship of U.S. funds by pushing the federal government to appropriate money to groups that are steadfastly helping displaced and endangered Christians, the Middle East’s largest religious minority.

In addition, the bill would support entities gathering information on and conducting criminal investigations into potential perpetrators of genocide as well as establish a specific “Priority 2” classification of “special humanitarian concern to the United States” for persecuted and displaced religious minorities — like Christians and Yazidis — in Iraq and Syria, guaranteeing them the opportunity to be considered for refugee status.

“Thank God for the church,” Smith said emphatically, praising the resilience of the Christians helping one another in the Middle East.

As winter sweeps over the land that has become a real-life hell for these displaced minorities, Smith said the U.S. has “failed” them.

“When I say ‘the U.S.,’ I mean the Obama administration,” the lawmaker clarified, going on to applaud the Christian organizations — such as the Knights of Columbus, native religious leaders and others — that have assisted their fellow believers with little U.S. humanitarian aid.

In addition to meeting physical needs, these religious leaders have “provided for the spiritual needs under extreme duress, almost like the early Christians if not like the early Christians under the Roman times,” Smith said.

For Smith, this isn’t just a policy issue — it’s personal. In fact, over the Christmas holiday, he traveled to Erbil, Iraq, where, according to the lawmaker, some 70,000 Christians are finding refuge, and came away with an even stronger desire to see change for these hurting believers.

“The greatest positive takeaway [from the trip] was the incredible resilience of the people at every age category,” he said. “I saw no diminution of their faith in God and his love and mercy and grace.”

Smith went on to describe a Christmas gathering he attended where children sang “Happy Birthday” to Jesus and the people shared an unshakeable positivity in the face of such horror. “Nobody was saying, ‘Woe is me,’ or complaining or in any way lamenting other than they’re praying for a better day,” he said. “They love their families, they love their church, and above all, they love God.”

Despite being invited, no White House or consular representative accompanied Smith on his trip into the refugee camps in Erbil, citing safety threats — an “indifference” the Republican said was “most shocking.”

“Obama worries so much about his legacy, well, why don’t you care for those who are neediest, who are fleeing genocide?” Smith asked. “[I]t’s bewildering and profoundly disappointing.”

With just eight days before Obama exits the White House, Smith is still calling on the president to reverse course and take substantive action to quell the Christian genocide in the Middle East.

In addition to lead cosponsors Smith and Eshoo, the bill has 15 original cosponsors — 12 Republicans and three Democrats.

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