The Archbishop of Erbil and the Knights of Columbus say they remain optimistic that the U.S. government will provide support for the Christian and other minority communities targeted for genocide by ISIS in Iraq, despite a number of temporary setbacks.
Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil led humanitarian efforts for more than 100,000 displaced Christians – as well as many Yazidis, another minority faith community in Iraq – following the invasion of Mosul and Nineveh province by ISIS in 2014. He spoke to Crux about his view of the situation. .
“We had some proposals rejected by the USAID process,” Warda said, “but now we understand that a number of possible aid packages are still being worked on by the U.S. government.”
Warda thanked those who helped raise the funding issues privately and publicly, and he said that solutions seem to be in the works.
News reports recently indicated that a number of Christian projects had been rejected by USAID’s Broad Agency Appeal (BAA process). But sources close to the situation tell Crux that a number of options remain on the table to support needs identified by the Christian and Yazidi communities in Iraq.
“An official announcement of what specific aid packages will be provided by the United States has not yet occurred, and from what we have learned we have good reason to be hopeful that the upcoming announcement will include projects that address some of our people’s key needs,” Warda added.
Warda also said he has seen a positive change in the way his people – and other religious minorities – have been treated by the United States government over the past months.
“Our situation received no attention in the previous administration,” Warda said. “Now the president and vice president have spoken out clearly on our behalf, and even when there have been setbacks, we have been touched by the number of people inside the administration doing all they can to make sure that Christians and Yazidis – who were so terribly persecuted – are not abandoned here.”
“This gives us great hope,” Warda added, “and I know from my meeting with the Vice President and his staff several months ago that they really care about those persecuted for their faith and for the future of religious pluralism in the region.”
Warda also singled out for praise the Knights of Columbus and Aid to the Church in Need, the private organizations that have combined to provide tens of millions in aid to Christians and those in their care in Iraq. “Without them, we would not have survived,” Warda said.
“The survival of Christians in the Middle East is critical to religious pluralism and as a witness to forgiveness,” said Carl Anderson, CEO of the Knights of Columbus, which has already provided more than $14 million to Christians and other minority communities in their care in Iraq since 2014.
Anderson also singled out the Vice President and his staff for their leadership on the issue.
“This administration has shown conviction, courage and human decency by publicly stating its commitment to address the needs of genocide-devastated minority communities,” Anderson said. “In particular, the Vice President and his staff have shown real leadership on this.”
“Certainly, no project of this magnitude is without its bumps in the road,” Anderson said. “But our understanding is that the issues that have been raised are being addressed and that USAID is serious about adhering to the policy laid out by Mr. Pence. We will be keeping a close eye on this process and hope for swift and positive outcome.”
Friday afternoon, the Vice President’s office issued a statement.
“While progress has been made to help these beleaguered people, there is more to do to fulfill the commitments made to them and not to mention – our own consciences,” it said.
“The vice president will not tolerate bureaucratic delays in implementing the administration’s vision to deliver the assistance we promised to the people we pledged to help, it added.
The statement also said the Vice President had directed USAID Administrator Mark Green to visit Iraq and personally assess the situation.
Green also released a statement: “This month, I will travel to Iraq at the direction of the Vice President to meet with leaders of these suffering communities and report back with a plan of action to accelerate aid to those in greatest need.”
“The United States has a proud legacy of standing with vulnerable ethnic and religious minorities. […],” Green added. “Good work is being done, but we will work even harder to accomplish exactly what the President and Vice President have directed.”