Portman Calls on Administration to Protect Syrian and Iraqi Religious Minorities

December 16, 2014 | Press Releases

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Rob Portman (R-Ohio) today joined a bipartisan effort calling on Secretary of State John Kerry to assist religious minorities facing persecution in Syria and Iraq, such as Christians and Yazidis, to find refuge in the United States. He also urged the State Department to provide these minorities with better access to U.S. humanitarian aid. The letter was led by U.S. Senators Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio).

“The United States must stand up for religious freedom not only at home, but also in regions of the world experiencing turmoil like the Middle East,” Portman stated. “It’s critical we send a clear message that we will not tolerate targeted violence against Christians or any other religious minorities in Iraq and Syria and that those engaging in these brutal acts must be stopped.”

The Senators’ letter specifically calls for “the creation of a Priority 2 (P-2) group under the United States Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP) for religious minorities from Iraq and Syria.”

This new classification would provide a process for Christians, Druze, Yazidis, and others to be considered for resettlement in the United States. In the past, this designation has been used for groups of humanitarian concern, including religious minorities from the former Soviet Union, Cuba, and Iran.

Earlier this year, Portman introduced a resolution condemning the violence and persecution of Iraqi Christians and other religious minorities by the Islamic State in Iraq, which passed the Senate in September. The resolution also urges the President to reaffirm America’s commitment to religious liberty by helping to create safe zones for refugees fleeing persecution, ensuring timely processing of visa applications from religious minorities, and working with the Iraqi government to ensure the rights of religious minorities are protected.  

 The full text of the letter can be found below.

December 16, 2014

The Honorable John F. Kerry

Secretary of State

2201 C Street NW

Washington, D.C. 20520

Dear Secretary Kerry,

We write to encourage you to take expeditious action to protect Christians and other vulnerable religious minorities from the unprecedented level of violence in Iraq and Syria. 

The creation of a Priority 2 (P-2) group under the United States Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP) for religious minorities from Iraq and Syria would provide a structured process for Christians, Alawites, Druze, Yazidis, and others to be considered for resettlement in the United States. This designation has been used for groups of humanitarian concern, including religious minorities from the former Soviet Union, Cuba, and Iran.  Although the Administration has announced that it will create more places for Syrian refugees, we have not stated that religious minorities such as Christians will be considered for admission to the United States.

Religious minorities also have difficulty accessing humanitarian assistance due to the hostility and discrimination that they face from other citizens, including other refugees.  The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has acknowledged that religious minorities avoid camps for this reason. As such, we encourage you to direct the U.S. Agency for International Development to ensure that religious minorities have sufficient access to the nearly $2 billion in aid that the United States has pledged for humanitarian relief efforts in Iraq and Syria.

Religious cleansing has reached historic levels in the Middle East.  Since the beginning of the civil war in Syria in 2011, President Bashar al-Assad, Syrian rebels, and terrorist groups have targeted religious minorities for violence.  In Iraq, Christians, Yazidis, and Mandeans have lived in fear of terrorist groups for the last decade.  Now, the brutal Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) has openly vowed to end the existence of religious minorities in the Middle East. Accordingly, we urge you to act swiftly to help protect religious minorities in Iraq and Syria. 

Thank you for your consideration.

 

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