“The diocese is doing an unbelievable job with almost nothing,” he added, but the U.S. needs to step up its humanitarian assistance. Poland and Hungary already have, he pointed out, with the Hungarian government opening an office with a budget of over $3 million euros to aid persecuted Christians.
Rep. Smith related how displaced persons and one bishop – the Syriac Orthodox Archbishop of Mosul Nicodemus Daoud Sharaf – told him they felt abandoned by the U.S. “No one’s come to any of these places and just asking, ‘How are the Christians doing?’” Smith noted, saying his delegation “did just that.”
Furthermore, he added that the UN Office on the Prevention of Genocide is reportedly considering leaving Christians out of their list of recognized victims of genocide by ISIS.
And yet the faith of the Christians and their leaders remains strong.
The bishops in the region are “true leaders of the faith,” Rep. Smith said, with each bishop acting not only as the “spiritual leader” of the people but also obtaining “the material support to help people live.”
Smith related one instance where he met with a group of internally-displaced families and asked the priest present to lead a group prayer. The priest prayed the “Our Father” in Aramaic, the language of Jesus.
“It was moving, and I think all of us were moved by that when he prayed,” he said.
To deal with the pressing humanitarian problem and better ensure that genocide perpetrators are punished, Smith and Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) have introduced the Iraq and Syria Genocide Relief and Accountability Act in Congress.
Among other things, the bill would ensure that the genocide victims receive what is due them – humanitarian relief, asylum interviews if they wish to leave the country, and punishment for the perpetrators of genocide so that people feel secure enough to return to their homes.
It would provide a “P-2” designation for the victims of ISIS genocide, expediting their refugee resettlement process if they wished to leave the region.
It would also strengthen the “prosecutorial” case against the genocide perpetrators, broadening the ability of the U.S. to prosecute genocide perpetrators living in the country. The bill has been endorsed by all former U.S. Ambassadors-at-Large for War Crimes, Smith said.
(Story continues below)
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He has also sponsored a resolution to set up an ad hoc war crimes tribunal in the region, which he says could be far more effective than the International Criminal Court which has made only two convictions in over a dozen years, both of them in sub-Saharan Africa.
Two Iraqi Christian leaders, Sister Diana Momeka and Fr. Benham Benoka, told CNA previously that some Christian homes in the Nineveh Plain region were liberated from ISIS control, but when Christian residents returned to their homes, they found destruction, vandalism, booby traps, betrayal by their neighbors, and threats telling them they had no place anymore in the region.
Rep. Smith said that in Erbil, the bishops told him many Christians have not yet returned home because they are not convinced that it is secure yet.
“And I think that dashed a ‘maybe we return in a year, in half a year,’” he said of the previous optimism that Christians could return home soon.