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'There's a Total Sense of Urgency': Faith Leaders Sound Alarm on Mideast Genocide


WASHINGTON -- Legislators and faith leaders are calling for immediate action on the humanitarian crisis facing religious minorities in the Middle East.

The call to action comes after the House unanimously approved a bill this week to provide emergency relief to Christian and Yazidi genocide survivors in the war-torn nations of Iraq and Syria.

Rep. French Hill, R-Ark.,  one of the co-sponsors of the Iraq and Syria Genocide Emergency Relief and Accountability Act, praised his colleagues for passing the bill.

"I am proud to have worked alongside the caucus co-chairs and the bill's sponsors, Congressman Chris Smith (R-N.J.) and Congresswoman Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) to help provide emergency relief to religious and ethnic minorities who survived genocide and war crimes in Iraq and in Syria," he said in a statement.

The measure also calls for criminal prosecution of the perpetrators of those atrocities.

"America must always stand for good in the world, and this legislation will increase our humanitarian work on behalf of those desperately in need of our help," Hill said.

Tuesday's vote on the bipartisan measure was followed by a press conference in Wednesday in which religious leaders and legislators urged the Senate to follow suit.

Both Rep. Eshoo, who heads the Knights of Columbus, and Rep. Smith took part in the presser.

"Now the Congress did something that was historic... and that is that we declared a genocide and it's only the third time in the history of our country that the Congress has done this, and when we did we knew we had more work to do," she said.

"It wasn't just the declaration of genocide, but also we would need legislation that would assure that all of the information that is necessary to establish and bring forward those that have been a part of the act of genocide that there would be accountability," she added.

Rep. Smith agreed, saying the time to act is now.

"There is a total sense of urgency that the Christians and the Yazidis in the Middle East are by the tens of thousands at risk of hunger, lack of medicine and shelter," he warned.

"We've provided $2.4 billion; they've been bypassed. So this legislation assures the money gets to those most in need and certainly these are among the most needy people on the face of the earth," he said.

So far, the Knights of Columbus has donated more than $12 million for Christian refugee relief.

The majority of those funds have helped provide Christian communities in Iraq with food, clothing, shelter and education.

The money has also helped threatened or displaced communities in Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and Egypt.

Speaking at the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast on Tuesday, Vice President Mike Pence commended the group for its tireless efforts on behalf of persecuted religious minorities in the region.

He also vowed that the Trump administration would continue to stand "with those who are persecuted for their faith around the world."

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