The premier US aid agency is poised to send millions of dollars directly to Christian and Yazidi communities in Iraq under a rarely used, streamlined funding arrangement after coming under pressure from Vice President Mike Pence.
The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) will give $10 million to two umbrella groups, including one headed by Catholic Relief Services, said Mark Green, USAID administrator.
Later, $25 million will be disbursed to help “persecuted communities” in Iraq, primarily Christians on the Nineveh Plains and Yazidis in Sinjar.
That will bring the total of US aid to the two religious minorities in the current fiscal year to more than $100 million, including more than a third of the money allocated for “stabilisation” projects aimed at rebuilding areas liberated from the Daesh.
The aid push also underscores the priority the Trump administration has placed on helping Christians, even in an era of steep cuts proposed for foreign aid.
The administration was lobbied to send more aid to the two beleaguered communities by groups that had pressed the State Department to declare in 2016 that the Daesh had committed genocide against Christians, Yazidis and Shiite Muslims.
They expressed concern that time was running out before Christians in the region became “extinct.”
The ranks of Christians in Nineveh, who numbered 1.5 million before the US-led invasion in 2003, have dwindled to under 200,000.
The Yazidis also are greatly diminished, with an estimated 500,000 living in and around Sinjar.
US policy is to provide aid without discriminating on the basis of religion, politics or other affiliations.
But as victims of genocide, religious and ethnic minorities in Iraq are considered among the most vulnerable.
“Why would you not give aid on the basis of creed if it’s genocide based on creed,” said Nina Shea, head of the Center for Religious Freedom at the Hudson Institute and a leader of the coalition advocating for more aid. “They’re survivors of genocide, the most heinous of all human rights abuses and atrocities. We vowed after the Holocaust that never again would we be passive, never again would we let a community flounder and vanish.”
After hearing complaints that aid was slow in coming, the coalition of faith-based groups brought the matter to Pence’s attention.
Pence has closely monitored USAID’s efforts since October, when he told the group In Defense of Christians that the administration will bypass “ineffective” programmes run by the United Nations and redirect aid to religious minorities in Iraq through USAID and faith-based organisations.