Foreign Aid

The Immigrant Mind: How America Has Used a Religious Test to Avoid Giving Aid to Displaced Iraqi Christians

Luma Simms | February 20, 2017

In America today, we have chased religion out of the public square. We have relegated it to individuals’ private lives and expect people to keep quiet about their faith. We are told that religion has no role to play on the national stage – or the world stage, for that matter. To acknowledge religion is to privilege it. Except, of course, when it comes to foreign aid to homeless Christians in Iraq.

Archbishop Bashar Warda’s Chaldean archdiocese in Erbil hosts the largest community of displaced Christians in Iraq. Since 2014, the archdiocese has received no aid from the United States or the United Nations.

Only by raising money through their own efforts have its members been able to house, feed, clothe, educate and provide medical care for all of the people in the community. Warda’s archdiocese does not limit this charitable care to Christians; it also takes in Yazidis and Muslims.

Why are they not being given aid? “We are told by some that they cannot give us money because we are a Church,” Warda said in an interview with Crux magazine.

Even though the Chaldean archdiocese was not proselytizing, but rather taking in whoever came in for help, it was not allowed to receive humanitarian aid. Warda explained,

Under the previous [Obama] administration, the Americans and the U.N. were applying a rigid formula that blocked the church from receiving aid to help take care of our IDPs [internally displaced persons], while also denying aid to our IDPs directly because, in the view of the U.N., we the church were already taking care of them.

Warda said that he anticipates that his archdiocese will run out of money in three months; it has only two months of medical reserves left. Thwarted by Americans and the United Nations from receiving humanitarian aid, its people are frustrated.

A few weeks ago, President Donald Trump signed an executive order temporarily halting immigration from certain countries that were already officially noted by our government to be terrorism hotspots. All of the countries on the list are majority Muslim, and of course many of these countries are in the Middle East. Since the executive order was issued, the mainstream media and many American Christians have said that Trump’s order was all about religion, and that religion should play no role in refugees’ status. Even American Christians lectured us, saying that Middle Eastern Christians should not be given priority just because they are Christians. And yet they are persecuted and homeless – and denied aid – precisely because they are Christian.

But if America wants no religious distinction to qualify for aid, then why use one to penalize the group most in need of help? Is it not a worse infraction for America – in our capacity as a nation giving foreign aid – to give to governments and organizations that discriminate against religious minorities, either by codifying their status as second-class citizens or by their de facto treatment as such?

Although its members have been “advised by members of U.S. Congress that U.S. law does not prohibit church organizations from receiving humanitarian funds, it only prohibits the use of proselytizing with those funds,” the archdiocese is still not getting the humanitarian aid it needs. The entire system of getting foreign aid to the needy on the ground in Iraq has failed, and is failing.

First, these churches feed, clothe and care for all the homeless Iraqis who come to them; they put no religious conditions on these people – and while caring for all is, in a way, Christian evangelism, they have no interest in explicitly proselytizing at a time when they are just trying to survive.

Second, this situation cannot be allowed to stand, because it is yet another human rights infraction. Think about it. These victims of genocide are fleeing for their lives. It is natural for them to fear going to United Nations camps where they would be surrounded by Muslims who could be violent toward them.

These minorities are scared. All of their decisions are based on fear. They just want to live. I really do not think that Americans understand this; we are all comfortable. Our refrigerators and pantries are full, and rarely do our neighbors care what religion we are practicing. We are so far removed from want and terror that these refugees’ conditions are literally and metaphorically foreign to us.

So what’s to be done about this further suppression of genocide victims? Pressure must be put on the agencies and people who hold the power of the purse on the ground in Iraq. We need American government officials to literally fly to Iraq and find out where the money is going. We need to find out why – contrary to what American law says on the books – these people are not receiving a share of the foreign aid America generously gives. Who decided to apply the “no money for proselytizing” rule to withhold aid from these people?

This is what should have us marching on the streets calling for justice for the poor and needy – the homeless genocide victims. This is what should have us outraged. And shame on us if we do not cry out for justice because we are more afraid of political discomfort than we are of God.