Trump Bypasses UN to Aid Middle East Christians

Lela Gilbert on the Shift in U.S. Policy

Adjunct Fellow, Center for Religious Freedom

The Trump administration, no longer willing to trust that U.N.-backed aid groups can be relied upon to effectively get help to persecuted Christian minorities in the Middle East, has decided to take matters into its own hands.

Vice President Mike Pence addressed the Fourth Annual IDC [In Defense of Christians] Solidarity Dinner for Christians in the Middle East on Wednesday night.

Pence revealed President Trump has ordered the State Department "to stop ineffective relief efforts at the United Nations, and from this day forward, America will provide support directly to persecuted communities through USAID."

In a statement likely intended as a wakeup call to the global diplomatic community, Pence added, "We will no longer rely on the United Nations alone to assist persecuted Christians and minorities in the wake of genocide and the atrocities of terrorist groups."

Instead, Pence said, federal agencies "will work hand-in-hand with faith-based groups and private organizations to help those who are persecuted for their faith."

The move reflects the fact, despite the best intentions of hard-working relief agencies, and the persistent entreaties of human rights activists, very few U.S. tax dollars – earmarked for humanitarian and reconstruction relief to destitute victims of ISIS – have reached the despairing Christian and Yazidi refugees in Iraq.

U.S. legislation that was meant to provide some $1.7 billion for assistance should have reached both inside Iraq and in the region, including vulnerable members of minority communities like the Yazidis and Christians," "according to a report by The Washington Free Beacon

But the money never reached those who needed it most.

Instead, it went to the United Nations. Critics charge the U.N. has next-to-nothing to show for its assistance to Iraq's minority communities. In fact, there are widespread reports not only of U.N. corruption, but of outright discrimination against Christians and Yazidis.

Nina Shea, director of Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom, explains, "Although the U.S. has provided over $1.4 billion in humanitarian aid, very little of that funding has been used to benefit Christian and Yazidi communities due to a U.S. policy that requires aid money for Iraq to be funneled through the United Nations and U.N. displacement camps.

"Christians and other religious minorities are afraid to go to U.N. camps out of fear of persecution from Muslims."

Reconstruction aid also remains in question, as it often appears to be funding superficial projects – window dressing – rather than targeting essential infrastructure, homes, churches, and community buildings. To make matters worse, the United States cannot supervise these construction projects, as USAID officials are not permitted to leave the U.S. consulate compound.

Thousands of displaced families fled the invasion of Islamic State terrorists in August 2014. Many were slaughtered in the process.

Those who survived lost their lifetime attainments – homes, vehicles, cash, and property. They also lost their proof of identity: Passports were seized along with deeds and other documents of ownership. Lost, too, was any means of employment.

In short, 200,000 Christians have been homeless and unemployable for more than three years.

In November 2014, I wrote an article for Fox News, headlined "Why American support for Kurdistan could soon become a matter of life and death." Kurdistan is where the persecuted religious minorities were permitted to find refuge.

Unfortunately, now more than ever, American support remains a matter of life and death in that tormented region.

Just weeks after their 2014 escape, I visited the desperate men, women and children in Kurdistan, where they had taken shelter in Erbil's Christian enclave, Ankawa.

The ISIS invaders had offered Qaraqosh's Christians three notorious options: Convert, pay the jizya tax, or get out of town. Otherwise, they would face the Islamists' sword.

And so they fled. The survivors left with nothing.

"They took everything," one young woman told me. "ID papers, money. They looted our houses, our shops. Everything."

The Iraqi Christians' plight, as well as that of the smaller Yazidi minority, reflects one disappointment after another, attributable either to insincerity or massive incompetence on the part of the United States.

And the Iraqi's distrust of America continues to grow.

In recent days, U.S. troops have made no discernable effort to resist intense Iranian aggression against the Kurds – despite strong words from President Donald Trump decrying Iran's creeping quest for hegemony across the Middle East.

Just days after the president's speech, the Kurdish city of Kirkuk was overrun by Iranian-funded and trained militias. The Kurds had no choice but to retreat. And there was no help in sight.

Emblematic of the ongoing upheaval: Teleskof in Kurdistan, perhaps the town that has most benefitted from the rebuilding efforts of a coalition of churches, is once again engulfed in warfare.

Fox News reported, "The first Iraqi Christians to return home after their village was freed from Islamic State control were forced to flee yet again Tuesday as Peshmerga forces stormed the area, a dark turn in what was broadly considered a 'success story' of rebuilding in Northern Iraq. Between 700 to 1,000 Christian families have been forced to evacuate the village of Teleskof, an Assyrian-Chaldean-Syriac Christian town about 19 miles north of Mosul . . ."

Meanwhile in the United States, the Iraq and Syria Genocide Relief and Accountability Act, which would provide additional funding specifically earmarked for the genocide victims in Iraq and Syria who need it most, has been stalled in the Senate for weeks.

The funds are designated for churches and other religious organizations that are already successfully rebuilding in privately funded projects. That the Act has not been passed by the Senate and signed into law by the president is yet another continuing source of frustration to activists trying to end the bloodshed and help the Christian minorities in the Middle East.