Aid to Middle East refugees can not be exclusive to Christians, say U.S. bishops

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Concern for those suffering persecution and even genocide in the Middle East cannot be exclusive to Christians, said the U.S. Catholic bishops, but must take in concern for all in that region "who suffer persecution, both minorities and majorities," including Muslims.

The declaration, apparently pushing back against an earlier statement by President Donald Trump that Christians in the region should be given preference when the U.S. considers admitting refugees from the region, was delivered in a statement released today by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. It was endorsed by bishops who head committees on International Peace and Justice, Migration, the Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty, and by the chairman of the board of Catholic Relief Services.

What is happening to a host of religious groups at the hands of the Islamic State or ISIS, "is genocide," as confirmed "once again" by a recent delegation of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops that visited Iraq, according to the statement.

"It is important for Syrians and Iraqis of all faiths," said the bishops, mentioning Christians, Yezidis, Shia Muslims and other minorities, "to recognize this as genocide, for that recognition is a way to help everyone come to grips with what is happening, and to form future generations that will reject any ideology that leads to genocidal acts and other atrocities."

The USCCB statement listed three options for the United States in dealing with the genocide and its consequences:

First, the United States should "accept our nation’s fair share of the most vulnerable families of all religions and ethnicities for resettlement as refugees." Special consideration should be given victims of genocide and other atrocities.

Second, the U.S. should encourage strengthening of the rule of law in the central government in Baghdad and regional government of Erbil. The bishops encouraged U.S. assistance to "help local and national efforts to improve policing and the judiciary, while encouraging appropriate self-governance at the local levels." Similar actions, they said, will be needed in Syria as well.

Third, the bishops called for generous U.S. humanitarian and development assistance to refugees, displaced persons and communities in Iraq and Syria as they rebuild. The government should also include funding "for trusted faith-based non-governmental agencies" such as Catholic Relief Services and local Caritas agencies that extend relief to all groups and communities regardless of faith or ethnicity.

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